F: Festen (1998)

 Festen (1998)

Before the rebellion of cinematic traditions began to make themselves known throughout the American independent market Europe was already light-years ahead of the curve. One such example was at the turn of the millennium when a group of cinematic ideologues from Denmark, who detested what they felt had become the conventional cinematic traditions of filmmaking, began a new filmic movement. Shooting with unconventional cinematography, editing structures as well as acting performances would become a few of the several hallmarks of the “Dogme ’95” film manifesto. Its originators, the controversial Lars von Trier and then newcomer Thomas Vinterberg would become the spearheads of a new form of filmmaking, one which carried strict rules, casting dubious results from the “established” Hollywood scene.

Vinterberg’s “Festen” (The Celebration) would not only prove that the works of Dogme’s members deserved the same level of respect as the status quo, it also greatly assisted in expanding the philosophy that film is not confined within a certain set of rules…….by instead imposing completely different ones. Festen would launch Vinterberg’s career which first came to recognition when his graduate short “Last Round” became nominated for the Oscar for Best Short Film in 1994. He would collaborate with Anthony Dod Mantle in creating a distinctly visceral world for the film. Its visual style captured on tiny camcorders, providing the freedom for some incredibly intimate cinematography. Lighting was tethered to the constrictions of the manifesto to stay natural, greatly enforcing the viewers suspension of disbelief.

If not for its technical breakthrough, Festen‘s cast provide enjoyable, intriguing and often  encapsulating characters spread throughout the story’s events. A large family gathers at the head of the tree’s country estate for a celebratory meal, coronating the elder fathers 60th birthday. As the family proceeds with the traditional onslaught of toasts at the meal one of the fathers son’s states that he was raped by him as a child. This shocking revelation is dealt at first by the son’s slightly dimwitted brother played wonderfully by Thomas Larsen. The rest of the family household descend into confusion and panic as the son, Christian (Ulrich Thomsen) repeats his accusations every chance he gets, often with his person being locked up in the households pantry.

Festen may not have saved Dogme from its eventual demise but it most certainly gave such a movement credibility. Vinterberg’s dark vision of the ultimate terror, a family reunion, is brought vividly to life thanks in part to the manifesto’s strident policies. Its cast is a veritable powerhouse of tightly held persona’s all with their own secrets to hide; with some surprisingly darker than others. It is also easy to see Festen‘s success transfer to theater, with successful productions occurring for years across countries since its cinematic release in 1998. Vinterberg however would not enter into the mainstream spotlight again until the release of his highly successful feature “The Hunt” (2012). Perhaps its content strikes a chord with those who feel families always have their secrets or entertains those who think they don’t? Regardless of how, Vinterberg’s raw energy and daring bravery at handling a story of this scope with such limited freedom proves his talent as a uniquely intelligent storyteller.

The family gathering

Christian Klingenfeldt: “Here’s to the man who killed my sister… to a murderer.”

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