Festen concerns the birthday of a wealthy Danish patriach. The whole family gathers in celebration(festen)at a large isolated hotel, just one year after the suicide of one of the daughters. The eldest son Christian has been invited to make a speach in honour of his father, but he has written two speeches, his father must choose...
This film is a raw and searingly honest exploration of family dynamics, both the dark and the light. Made as part of the dogma 95 contract (no artificial lighting, music etc) the stripped down method completely suits the content of the film.
As the contents of the speech are revealed so are the families skeletons in the cupboard, and with them all the denial and avoidance families use to try and keep harmony and avoid the painful truth.
This film manages to open the wounds of the characters without cliche, and shows the festering underbelly of the protagonists without judgement, an amazing feat given the history involved.
Because the filming technique is so close and visceral, the clostrophobia of the situation is felt by the viewer and it is easy to feel as one of the guests,who would rather not be viewing the intimate unravelling of extended family, but in the same breath is struck by morbid curiosity as to how things will unfold.
And when this is done, it is managed with real compassion, redemption and hope.
Festen is not a comfortable film, but it does not abandon the viewer in this, rather is uses the pain to reach resolution and beauty. Just watch it.