A teacher lives a lonely life, all the while struggling over his son's custody. His life slowly gets better as he finds love and receives good news from his son, but his new luck is about to be brutally shattered by an innocent little lie.
Thomas Bo Larsen,
The Father turns 60. His family, which is a big one of the kind, gathers to celebrate him on a castle. Everybody likes and respects the father deeply...or do they? The youngest son is trying to live up to the father's expectations. He is running a grill-bar in a dirty part of Copenhagen. The oldest son runs a restaurant in France, while the sister is a anthropologist. The older sister has recently committed suicide and the father asks the oldest son to say a few words about her, because he is afraid he will break into tears if he does it himself. The oldest son agrees without argument. Actually he has already written two speeches. A yellow and a green one. By the table, he asks the father to pick a speech. The father chooses green. The oldest son announces that this is the Speech of Truth. Everybody laughs, except for the father who gets a nervous look on his face. For he knows that the oldest son is about to reveal the secret of why the oldest sister killed herself. Written by
Thomas Vinterberg "confessed" to having covered a window during the shooting of one scene, which is a breaking of two Dogme rules - no bringing props onto the set, and no use of special lighting. See more »
All children "disappear" just before the dinner. See more »
[on his cellphone]
Christian speaking... Hi, I'm here now. I landed this morning. What? Er... Washed? I shaved at the airport if you must know. I shaved at the airport if you must know! I'm fine... right now I'm looking across the fields. At the land of my father. It's beautiful. It makes me want to move back for good, but that'd be problematical. I'll make it. Yes, I suppose it will be... shocking. What?... You're dropping out. O.K. Bye.
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Having read about the film makers' "Dogme 95" charter I was expecting something pretty bizarre here but "Festen" (festival, celebration) co-written and directed by Thomas Vinterberg turned out to be the fairly orthodox tale of a traumatic family reunion. The only oddball feature, which added nothing to the dramatic impact, was the deliberately coarse film quality, achieved, it seems, by using a digital video camera. Perhaps "no artistic egos were destroyed in the making of this film" but the impression I got was that somebody competent was in charge, albeit somebody with a taste for odd camera angles.
The story centres around Christian, who travels back to the family country hotel (in Denmark) from his successful Paris restaurant to celebrate his father's 60th birthday. We soon discover the family are a pretty gross lot. There's a nymphomaniac sister, a violent, overbearing younger brother, and a twin sister who has committed suicide. Father is a burly dirty-minded bully with a short fuse "protected" by his elegant but cowed wife. Naturally a family like this has enough dirty linen to fill the hotel laundry which they proceed to reveal in the course of the evening in front of twenty or thirty guests, who, just in case they were thinking of leaving, have had their car keys hidden from them. Complicit in all of this are the long-suffering hotel staff, who can't see it happening to a more deserving bunch of people.
It's a bit difficult to say much about the acting - not understanding Danish is a bit of a barrier- let alone Danish mores. Christian (Ulrich Thomsen) is played as the still centre - we find out about him from what others say- yet he holds our attention throughout. Thomas Bo Larsen as Michael the obnoxious younger brother puts in a full-blooded manic performance and Paprika Steen as their sister Helena gave her role plenty of depth. The father (Henning Moritzen) was a bit two-dimensional - not enough charm to offset his basic nastiness. Among the minor players, I particularly liked Lars Brygman as Lars, the reception clerk, who never loses his (somewhat stunned) composure even as he is lying fully clothed in a bathtub at the behest of Helena looking for ghosts in the ceiling. I also liked Helmuth (Klaus Bondam), the Danish idea of the comic German toastmaster, who after some particularly shocking revelations at the dinner table manages to suggest dessert, coffee and dancing in the lounge - and the stunned guests meekly comply.
There were hints of Bunuel in this movie ("there's nothing charming about the bourgeiose") and perhaps "Last Year in Marienbad." The spirit of Ingmar Bergman was not far away either. The hotel itself, near Stockholm, according to the rather wavery credits, had a pretentious overstuffed, claustrophobic atmosphere that seemed quite appropriate.
Well. I don't know if Dogme 95 has anything new to say about film-making, but this was a watchable story. I think, however, anyone coming from a family like that would avoid reunions at all costs, even if seeking revenge.
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