In the Danish summer guests arrive at a magnificent old hotel for the 60th
birthday celebration of Helge Klingenfeldt (Henning Moritzen). Present are his loyal wife
Elsa (Birthe Neumann), daughter Helene (Paprika Steen) and sons Christian (Ulrich Thomsen)
and Michael (Thomas Bo Larsen), who arrives uninvited after failing to attend the funeral
of Christian's twin, Linda, who committed suicide. As the evening progresses, Christian
feels compelled to break the silence surrounding a dark family secret. The effect is
explosive and sets the tone for a 'celebration' no-one will forget.
"Thomas Vinterberg, 28 years old when he directed Festen, has stated that his
objective is to "force truth out of his characters by all means available and at the
cost of any good taste and aesthetic considerations". He's kept his word with this
harrowing, funny, shocking and immensely moving account of a party gone horribly wrong. At
least for some members of this dysfunctional family. But the cathartic experience also
provides glimmers of hope for other members whose lives have been profoundly damaged.
Unlike the repulsive Lars Von Trier film The Idiots, Vinterberg has a real story to tell
and attacks it with intelligence. His subject matter is humanity stripped raw, fed to
itself and spat out like broken glass. It is ideally suited to the Dogma manifesto and as
captured documentary-style on video cameras and blown up to grainy 35mm film the impact is
even more chilling as the veneer of middle-class respectability disintegrates. Lightening
the somber mood are some short jabs of humour and a supernatural aura surrounding the
recently deceased Linda whose spiritual presence plays a major role. "There have
always been ghosts in this house" observes Helene. She's right and not all of them
are dead either. For escapism look elsewhere; for compelling and truthful human drama
start right here."
"Written and directed by Thomas Vinterberg (a signatory with Lars von Trier to the
Dogma 95 pledge, which forbids, among other things, the naming of a director) - Festen won
the special jury prize at Cannes in 1998. Dogma 95 does not permit artifice - no
extraneous lighting, props, sets or costumes. Locations and what they contain are what is
used. Cameras must be handheld (Vinterberg confesses to a transgression or two). The
result would be extraordinary anyway, but somehow the strictures only enhance the
breathtaking honesty and raw power of this deceptively serene and sunny movie. The
performances - by an ensemble of Denmark's finest stage and film actors - are probably
landmarks in their individual careers. As well as ripping away the sunny facade of the
jolly family gathering, Vinterberg also turns over the stereotype of Danish society as
somehow more tolerant and liberal than most. The result is a movie of rare and enormous
power and integrity. We know immediately that Christian is gong to tell the family that
his father was a molester of his twin children. But what Vinterberg then does with this
unhappy family is unpredictable, original and brilliant. Cannes got it right."
"This is one hell of a film. Made under the rules of Dogma 95, Festen has all the
elements of the best drama without using any of the current customary film techniques.
Director/scriptwriter Thomas Vinterberg has understood perfectly what it takes to make
such a film work. That being a story of many layers, continual revelation of both plot and
character, humour to balance the pathos, and trust in the ability of exceptional actors.
And what actors he has working with him here. All are tremendous talents and each has
pushed their work to the absolute extreme, producing a stunning array of wonderfully rich
and horribly flawed characters. As for the story, it seems Vinterberg has called on
another set of rules, Aristotle's unities of time, place, and action, to get him through.
If it worked for the Greeks 2000 years ago when they had only the basic elements of
theatre (a stage and actors), then it would logically work here with similar limitations.
And work it does. This is a gem of a film. Utterly riveting from start to finish, it
reaches a depth few films ever manage. And it will stay with you for a very long
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LARS VON TRIER
SOFCOM MOVIE TIMES
CAST: Ulrich Thomsen, Henning Moritzen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Paprika Steen
PRODUCERS: Birgitte Hald
DIRECTOR: Thomas Vinterberg
SCRIPT: Thomas Vinterberg, Mogens Rukov
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Anthony Dod Mantle
EDITOR: Valdis Oskarsdottir
MUSIC: Lars Bo Jensen
RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Dendy
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 11, 1999