Festen is a Danish film released in 1998 which translates to mean The Celebration. The movie retained the original dialogue and added subtitles for their UK release. It is known in Europe for being the first Dogme 95 film which is a manifesto on limiting production to reduce costs as a protest against the rising costs of Hollywood film production. The entire film benefits from being filmed on a handy-cam without it being too shaky or jumpy like with many found footage films that have been released recently.
Director Thomas Vinterberg was inspired to write it with Mogens Rukov, based on a hoax broadcast by a Danish radio station.
The film is a character driven story about a family gathering to celebrate their father’s 60th birthday. At the dinner, the eldest son publicly accuses his father of sexually abusing both him and his twin sister (who had recently committed suicide). The whole celebration is cut short when Christian makes a shocking revelation to the family that brings up mixed emotions and much arguing about whether it is true.
This is where the difference of a sensitive director come in place, and in a normal sense, could have possibly spoiled the film so if you intend to watch it- the film is very sensitive and tackles issues like racism and sexual abuse with unwavering honesty. There is also a shocking treatment of the boyfriend of Helen( Daughter), is an African-American who only speaks English so doesn’t even know he’s been racially abused as the family sing a racist song to him in Danish which is being led by brother of Helen. This is just a secondary plot within the family party as well as more revelations about the childhood of their other children who committed suicide, are uncovered. The behavior of some members of the family who deny everything without even knowing what happened is equally shocking.
At times it’s a tough film to watch but builds towards a fascinating end which feels just as hollow as the rest of the film, no matter what the outcome was nobody was coming away from this happy. It could have possibly looked into this more deeply but the final scene where the son is dreaming that he is hugging his dead twin sister is a particularly moving scene.
A critical darling, Festen was rapturously received on the festival circuit. It won a Jury Prize at Cannes and Independent Spirit Award, among others.
What’s Dogme 95:
- Shooting must be done on location. Props and sets must not be brought in (if a particular prop is necessary for the story, a location must be chosen where this prop is to be found).
- The sound must never be produced apart from the images or vice versa. (Music must not be used unless it occurs where the scene is being shot).
- The camera must be hand-held. Any movement or immobility attainable in the hand is permitted. (The film must not take place, where the camera is standing; shooting must take place where the film takes place).
- The film must be in color. Special lighting is not acceptable. (If there is too little light for exposure the scene must be cut or a single lamp be attached to the camera).
- Optical work and filters are forbidden.
- The film must not contain superficial action. (Murders, weapons, etc. must not occur.)
- Temporal and geographical alienation are forbidden. (That is to say that the film takes place here and now)