In 1995, a group of Danish filmmakers banded together to
create an artistic movement they dubbed "
Dogma 95", which had the
expressed desire "to purge film so that once again the inner lives of
characters justify the plot." There were several rules such as filming
location with existing props and sets, eschewing a musical
soundtrack and shooting the film in color with a hand-held camera,
among others.

      Noted director Lars Von Trier was one of the first to sign on as
was Thomas Vinterberg.
Celebration/Festen is Vinterberg's
contribution to this somewhat controversial and possibly tongue-in-
cheek doctrine. The winner of the Special Jury Prize at the 1998
Cannes Film Festival, the film centers on a family reunion to mark the
sixtieth birthday of its patriarch. Drawing from such disparate sources
as Ingmar Bergman's
Fanny and Alexander and the British television
Upstairs, Downstairs, Celebration eventually achieves its
mission and presents a well-told and engrossing tale of a family    
imploding under the weight of long-buried secrets.

      It does take some getting used to the herky-jerky camera
movements and the other tenets of the "Dogme". For instance, I was
keenly aware of the lack of a musical score; instead we hear natural
sounds as we meet the eccentric family at the heart of the story.

      The patriarch is Helge Klingefeldt, a successful businessman    
with a country estate that is where the titular party is being held.
Then there are his three surviving children: Christian, the oldest and
on the surface, the most well-adjusted (whose twin sister Linda
committed suicide some three months before the story begins);
Michael, the profligate middle child prone to violence and drinking;
and Helene, the youngest with a messy love life. The children's lives
are also interwoven with the staff. Kim is the head of the kitchen and
one of Christian's closest friends while both sons have had dalliances
with waitress/maids.

      We follow the arrival of the guests and their preparations for
the birthday party. When the hired toastmaster calls upon Christian
to make a toast honoring his father — he shocks the assembled by
revealing a deep secret about the guest of honor.

      While on paper
Celebration reads like a soap opera, it is more
mythic in its aspirations and Vinterberg proves an efficient and
entertaining director. (He's also movie star handsome as, like Alfred
Hitchcock, he makes a cameo appearance in the film.) Working under
the tenets of the "Dogma" which one might find confining has the
opposite effect on Vinterberg. The fluidity of the camera work, with
its strange angles and close-ups, draws the viewer in; one feels as if
he or she is actually attending the event.

      The actors all meet the challenge well with special mention to
Ulrich Thomsen as Christian, who bears a striking resemblance to the
young Laurence Olivier, Thomas Bo Larsen as the hot-headed Michael
and Paprika Steen as Helene. This emotionally violent, brutal film is
a fascinating look at a family on the verge of collapse. Vinterberg   
and company have created a party that the viewers won't soon forget.

                      Rating:                A -
MPAA Rating:        R for strong sexual content
                                               and language, including
                                               references to sexual abuse
Running time:      105 mins.      
©1998-2010 by C.E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.