Rising to the challenge of Dogma 95's self-imposed restrictions on aesthetic freedom, Thomas Vinterberg's Festen
is a remarkable example of the way limits can give rise to creative opportunity. (Dogma 95 is a vow of chastity sworn originally by a group of Danish film-makers, which also includes Lars von Trier, director of Breaking the Waves
. The group's 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.) Festen
, 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 characterise the partying crowd's reaction in quite the way one might have expected. In fact, the whole of Festen
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 scepticism over Dogma 95's bare-bones trendiness, and is perhaps a harbinger of great work to come from Vinterberg. --Tom Keogh, Amazon.com
Rich family patriach Helge Klingelfeldt is particularly anxious that thier three grown children Christian, Michael and Helene, support the party's festive mood by making a display of happy unity of the clan. Even downstairs staff are expected to somehow join in the general ambience. Dusk Falls, and the master of ceremonies introduces himself and announces that dinner is served. Helge is met by spontaneous outbursts of applause and song. The Guests are in a merry mood, indeed. While everyone's being seated, the kitchen staff add their finishing touches to the evening's festive meal. Fish steam, venison broil. The banquet begins. When Christian eventually clears his throat and calls for silence only he knows what is to come. A speech to shock, a speech to shatter. The most heart-breaking night in living memory is about to descend on the unsuspecting Klingenfeldts. However, irrespective of skeletons being mercilessly ripped out of the family closet, stiff upper lips prevail and in a highly macabre way the party just keeps going on.