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Saturday, July 20

Festen/The Celebration

One rainy afternoon, two friends met for a coffee and established a manifesto meant to govern the way their films were made and to protest against the decadent, artificial, costly, Hollywood cinema. It was 1995 and their Vow of Chastity resulted into two great movies- Lars von Trier's The Idiots and Thomas Vinterberg's Festen. The Dogme film No. 1 is Thomas Vinterberg's Festen/The Celebration, one of the most unexpected, interesting, incredible movies I have ever seen- I am only too sorry it took me so long to discover it.

Family and friends gather to a lovely Danish mansion to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Helge, the father of four children. The location is lovely, the people are smiling, the food is exquisite, the clothes are elegant. Everything is going with a swing when the eldest son, Christian, upon making a speech, reveals to the whole crowd that both he and his recently deceased sister, Linda, have been sexually abused by their father. From that moment on, the situation becomes confused, tense and hostile. The guests are left flabbergasted and swing between disbelief and repulsiveness. The atmosphere is genuine in its lack of artificial reactions and unfiltered emotions.

Christian's hesitancy and uncertainty is so natural that you can almost feel his turmoil. He has a naturalistic and unmissable performance that got Ulrich Thomsen, the actor playing him, several awards. He is best at dealing with unpleasant and uncomfortable situations and despite his temporary loss of courage, he braces himself to face the ugly truth and reveal the dark secret. His childhood friend, the chef and the chambermaids support him and hide the car keys of the guests to make sure Christian has his big moment. His sister discovers Linda's secret goodbye letter to the family and reads it in front of the guests only to uphold Christian's painful confession and throw eternal contempt upon their father. However, skeletons may be taken out of the closet but inner demons are left to haunt your soul forever; Linda commits suicide because her father continues to rape her in her dreams and chooses a better, brighter world. 

Racism, sexual abuse, hypocrisy and the behaviour of some members -the grandparents- of the family who deny everything without even knowing what happened are equally shocking. Behind the glittering, perfect image of a family celebration hides the rotten, dysfunctional, dark relationships of its members. It takes courage to confront delicate, hurtful truths and it takes strong characters to brave out their past and life itself. Thomas Vinterberg combines an excellent story and an incredible cast -Ulrich Thomsen (Christian), Thomas Bo Larsen (Michael), Henning Moritzen (Father); Paprika Steen (Helene), Birthe Neumann (Mother), Trine Dyrholm (Pia), Helle Dolleriis (Mette), Klaus Bondam (Toastmaster) into a great movie that uses hand-made shooting, a great sense of framing, real locations, no props and genuine emotions.

Villains and victims, parents and children, life and death, incest and family life, racism and tolerance build up in an ensemble creation that made Thomas Vinterberg, Dogme '95 and Denmark cinema celebrated and appreciated worldwide.