Rising to the challenge of Dogma 95's self-imposed restrictions on aesthetic freedom, Thomas Vinterberg's The Celebration is a remarkable example of the way limits can give rise to creative opportunity. (Dogma 95 is a Da... more »nish filmmakers collective that also includes Lars von Trier, director of Breaking the Waves. The group crafted a manifesto in which its members vow to eschew special lighting, optical effects, props, and the visible imprint of a director's personality in order to attain higher truths yielded by characters.) The Celebration, shot with a small video camera and transferred to 35mm film, concerns a black-tie birthday gathering for a family patriarch, Helge (Henning Moritzen), which erodes into a battle after long-suppressed secrets are revealed and the chance to settle old scores presents itself. Among the grievances are an accusation of incest and the responsibility for the death of a child--gruesome stuff, but Vinterberg doesn't characterize the partying crowd's reaction in quite the way one might have expected. In fact, the whole of The Celebration is about unexpected perspectives and vantage points emerging from out of nowhere, largely due to Vinterberg's free hand at editing the film in such a way as to yank truth from every corner. This is a strong work that belies skepticism over Dogma 95's bare-bones trendiness, and is perhaps a harbinger of great work to come from Vinterberg. --Tom Keogh« less
""The Celebration" was made under the rules of Dogma 95, a pact about how a movie is to be made. It was signed by several Danish filmmakers including Thomas Vintenberger, the director of "Celebration". The rules include using only hand held cameras, no artificial lighting, no props except those found on location. Dogma 95 is an attempt to get away from the artificiality of Hollywood-style movie making, but, in its own way, it's artificial itself because it works only with certain kinds of movies. "The Celebration", though, happens to fit perfectly into its rules. The hand held camera work, for example, only adds to the tension of this powerful and devastating film. A large family gathers to celebrate the 60th birthday of its patriarch. Among the celebrants are the man's grown children, a daughter and two sons. A fourth child, a twin of one son, recently killed herself in the family's country inn where the party takes place. One son, Michael [Thomas Bo Larson], is a loud and pushy guy who drinks a lot and is less than an understanding husband and father. Helene [Paprika Steen], the daughter, is an anthropologist who has traveled the world. We find out that she has good reason to distance herself from the family. Christian [Ulrich Thomson], the twin, is a man who has been in a mental institution more than once. For a time, the children try their best to put on a cheerful front. But there is a dark family secret which is about to come out. It will destroy the family. Despairing as it may be, this is one of the most riveting films I have seen in a long time. The acting is absolutely wonderful. The script is brilliant and brutally frank. Rarely have I seen a movie with so much insightful into the enormous complexities of relationships within a family. While your family hopefully does not have secrets this shocking, you should still be able to relate to the emotions involved. This is the kind of movie you have to pay close attention to. In particular, pay attention to a small piece of paper that keeps cropping up.Highly recommended to people who like highly charged dramas and who like some substance to their movies."
ONE OF THE BEST FILMS OF 1998
Matthew Horner | 11/21/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"After I saw this brilliant film, I was totally blown away by it. (I was also blown away by the fact that the obtuse Academy Awards did not nominate it for Best Foreign Language Film. The Celebration was ten times better than Life is Beautiful.) I would compare The Celebration to another brilliant film of its time: The 400 Blows by Francois Truffaut. Both films make excellent use of their cameras, and deal with the theme of child abuse by the adults. The freeze frame shot of the twin son at the end of The Celebration reminded me of Antoine at the end of The 400 Blows. THERE SHOULD BE MORE FILMS LIKE THE CELEBRATION AND THE 400 BLOWS MADE AND RELEASED IN THE U.S."
The One Film That Will Stay With Me Until My Death
LGwriter | 09/04/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Forget the Dogme rules. I'm of the view that in a few years time Dogme will have been shown to be film equivalent of Punk Rock. In the same way that Malcolm Maclaren told the whole world (after the event) that Punk was one great rip-off, I can see Von Trier and friends saying that the only people who took Dogma seriously was the movie going public - they were only having fun.All this being said, by luck or judgement the Dogme movement have come up with a masterpiece of a film. Festen (or The Celebration) hits every taboo right on target: incest, racism, family feuds (to name a few). Dare I say it, but the considering the subject matter the most impressive facet of the film is its sense of comedy. I laughed out loud (nervously it must be said in the theatre) at the shear boldness of the film - if you've never seen a foreign language film, this one will change your life."
Gregor von Kallahann | 08/28/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I hadn't seen any Dogme 95 films until quite recently. I did have a passing familiarity with the tenets of the group--which got a fair amount of press due to the emergence of Lars von Trier as a director of note--but hadn't actually gotten around to viewing any of the releases available in this country until just a few months ago.
A lot of what I had read was pretty negative. Many reviewers found that the strictures under which Dogme 95 filmmakers operate were more limiting than liberating--and that even when the script and the acting were good, those strictures (particularly the grainy cinematography and lack of edits) often undermined the films' effectiveness.
Since the first Dogme film I actually saw was ITALIAN FOR BEGINNERS, I found myself in tentative agreement with the critics. That film, a comedy-drama, seemed to beg for better lighting, better sound and an overall more professional look. I remember thinking that the film's generally washed-out look made one actress's bright red hair look oddly artificial). It seemed oddly jarring that what was ultimately a bright, warmhearted film was presented so starkly.
But I have to admit the experience had its effect. The next few films I watched I saw through somewhat different eyes. I became increasingly aware of the kind of tricks filmmakers employ--particularly in terms of cinematography. There are certain visual conventions in films, particularly in American films, that have become cliched and deserve to be challenged.
It remained to be seen how effective the Dogme 95 approach might be in a more dramatic context. The very first entry in the series Thomas Vinterberg's CELEBRATION (am I even allowed to mention the director's name?) seemed promising on that score. The film concerns the secrets and lies of a well-to-do Danish family (which include incest, denial and suicide) set against the backdrop of the 60th birthday celebration of the family patriarch (and perpetrator).
We've seen this kind of set-up before, and it can go one of two ways. It can be as emotionally shattering as the subject matter would seem to warrant--or it can ring totally false and shift to unintentional self-parody. Thankfully, THE CELEBRATION manages to pull it off, and, yes, it's in part due to solid writing and acting, but I think the minimalist Dogme approach serves this vehicle well. The film evokes Bergman--without the cinematography of a Sven Nykvist. As it turns out, it actually works. Powerfully.
Bergman is, of course, Bergman, and he would likely never have never have submitted to Dogme 95-like tenets. On the other hand, he has approached same on occasion (SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE comes to mind), and a Dogme remake of any number of his films would be at least possible.
CELEBRATION is a difficult film to watch, and the lack of cinematic trickery adds to the discomfort in a very real way. You can't really get away from the events unfolding onscreen, even momentarily, by pulling back and saying, "Yes, it's painful, but look how beautifully it's framed."
Superior example of Dogme 95 film
LGwriter | Astoria, N.Y. United States | 05/21/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Thomas Vinterberg's Celebration is without question one of the best of the Danish Dogme (spelled this way in Denmark, not Dogma) 95 films. As the film opens, we see various people, in groups of two, three, and more, converge on a large house--walking, driving, and bicycling. They are gathering to celebrate the 60th birthday of the man who fathered four children--they who have now come to pay their respects with their wives, husbands, boyfriends and girlfriends. The man has made a tidy sum thanks to his unnamed business, and he and his wife live quite comfortably. Also invited are the older couple's friends, and by the time everyone has arrived, there is a full house indeed, all seated at the host's large dinner table.Speeches are made, glasses are chinked together in toasts, food is eaten. The daughter has a black American boyfriend and it's a wicked foreshadowing that has him insulted by one of his girlfriend's brothers--an out and out racist remark.This sets the stage for a shocking turn of events when one of the man's sons stands and proposes a toast to his father that leaves the guests completely stunned. A dark secret is revealed that is so out of place with the reason for the "celebration", nothing can ever be the same following the younger man's toast.The drama here is powerful, intense, seething. One of the trademark strengths of Dogme 95 cinema, as many of us know by now, is its focus on story alone, without reliance on any special effects--CGI, lighting, or otherwise--and Vinterberg has here wisely chosen a story so strong that to "enhance" it with anything remotely resembling special effects would be doing it a major disservice--would be, in fact, blatantly stupid.This is one of the best Danish films of the 20th century and should absolutely not be missed.Very highly recommended."