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
Danish drama from the 'Dogme' school of filmmaking, directed by Thomas Vinterberg. The wealthy Helge Klingenfeldt (Henning Moritzen) and his wife Elsa (Birthe Neumann) throw a family party to celebrate his sixtieth birthday. Eldest son Christian (Ulrich Thomsen) and daughter Helene (Paprika Steen) arrive, as does reckless younger son Michael (Thomas Bo Larsen) - in disgrace through his failure to attend sister Linda's funeral months earlier. Maids Pia (Trine Dyrholm) and Michelle (Therese Glahn) both hope to rekindle their old affairs with the two brothers, but their efforts prove to be in vain. At dinner, Christian announces that both he and the late Linda were sexually abused by Helge when they were children, but is not believed. However, while staying in Linda's old room Helene discovers a suicide note from her sister which forces her to reconsider.