Festen [The Celebration] (1998)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Festen</strong> [<strong class="MovieTitle">The Celebration</strong>] (1998)

(On DVD, September 2016) I’m really not a fan of Dogme 95 (to which Festen loudly claim fealty): I think that movies should be manufactured as deliberately as possible, heighten reality and leave realism far behind. (Also: “Genre movies are not acceptable.”? Go get lost.) I’m no fan of family dramas, I only reluctantly like some of writer/director Thomas Vinterberg’s other movies (I can rant against It’s All About Love, but I can also rant in favour of Jagten) and the home-movie aesthetics usually drives me nuts. So I was primed to dislike Festen a lot. While I’m not quite ready to proclaim that I liked it, I think that by the end of the punishing two-hour bout, I had achieved a grudging respect for the film and the way it shows a horrifying revelation at what is supposed to be a celebratory family banquet. Family feuds are set up and detonated, yet the tone isn’t quite as dark as you’d expect. Still, Festen does feel like a lot of work to get to its best features: its insistence on realism actually puts up a supplemental layer to untangle before getting to the heart of the matter. I’d frankly rather have a conventional film dealing with the same issues, as traditional moviemaking does actually spend a lot of energy focusing on the core of its argument. But, hey, it’s something different and more than two decades later, we’ve seen the limits of what Dogme 95 could achieve. Festen works because it’s better than its straightjacket, not because of it.

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