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44 of 45 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 10 March 2010
Vinterberg's Festen is a true masterpiece - it intertwines everything from awful family secrets coming to light during the father's 60th birthday celebration, to the relationships between siblings, racism, and and an extreme version of 'looking the other way'.

It is tragic, insightful, as well as deeply funny in a slightly disturbed way. Of all the Dogme 95 movies this one still works best in my opinion and it should also not be so hard to stomach as The Idiots [1999] [DVD] for most viewers. The gritty realism dictated by the manifesto adds very well to the topic being addressed in the movie.

It is definitely - as other reviewers have pointed out - a movie to buy, as repeated watching it does not detract from its quality, there is always the same sense of anticipation, and subsequently contentment for having seen and enjoyed it yet again.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 3 April 2006
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.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 23 February 2005
This is possibly the best film I've ever seen. Watching it again (for the third time) last night, I was amazed by the subtlety and force of every single scene, image and gesture. The structure of the plot is on a par with a classic Greek tragedy, updated for the contemporary psyche. The transformation of every character through the gradual revelations of the story is thoroughly Shakespearean. As for the relentless power of truth, advancing slowly and unpredictably, but ultimately crushing all social artifice and pretence - it's art at its best. Awesome.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 4 January 2005
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 shadow and the golden. 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 raw, 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 reselution and beauty. Just watch it.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on 23 April 2006
The very first film made in accordance with the Dogme 95 manifesto, and quite possibly the best. You don't so much watch Festen as get completely drawn into it. The natural lighting and hand-held camera give it an almost documentary feel, your being pulled - whether you like it or not - into the action from the very first moment.

All claustrophobically set in one day and in one hotel, over the course of the film you find yourself emotionally dragged through the gutter before being pulled out the other side. You find yourself thrown into the back of cars and into the middle of fights - so much so that by the end you rather feel like you've experienced the whole thing first hand rather than having been a passive spectator. The acting is incredible, and the utter intensity of the whole thing at times overwhelming. As another reviewer said, if you thought that your family had issues then prepare to be stunned.

Hence while the Dogme manifesto has now become rather old-hat, Festen is testament to what it set out to do in the first place. It stripped film-making down to its bare-essentials, shunning the high-tech equipment, lighting and special effects that have become predominant and instead took it back to its rawest and purest form. The result is a breathtaking and landmark film that will shock you, touch you and probably even disgust you, but that will ultimately also leave you fully convinced of the power of great cinema.
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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
My Thoughts: Before telling people how astounding this story is - and laying down the bones of the plot - I should at least give some people a warning as to what to expect from this film and why it was shot the way it was (which many unwary viewers may take as poor quality).

In 1995 two Danish directors (now considered quite well known in their fields) by the name of Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg started a new avant-garde movement in the filmmaking industry which was named the "Dogme 95" movement (Dogme being the Danish for "Dogma"). The Dogme 95 Manifesto had a set of rules that stated the production had to be filmed under very special conditions to be certified as a Dogme 95 release; the main theme of the conditions was that the movie must be shot entirely with a hand-held camera in 35mm film, there must be no extra lighting, no filters, no sets, no props, all shot entirely on location and the sound must come from the scene itself (no ADR, no soundtrack, music must be diegetic).

This is the original Dogme 95 film, the template on which others would follow. This being the barest of bones of a movie is what is so brilliant; the lack of emphasis on special angles, filters, lighting, sets, means the focus on the story itself is all so much more powerful. The acting in this film is absolutely outstanding and believable. Some people may find it hard to get past the reveals of the edge of the lens on wide shots, or the graininess of low-lit scenes, but I urge you to overlook and try to see past these things to focus on what is a very gripping story and utterly fantastic performances from all actors involved.

The story here is absolutely staggering; the story runs steadily rather than having huge reveals and quickening pace to exciting levels. The realism here caught me and you can actually feel the emotions running at the table, the despair, the tragedy, the embarrassment, the disgust and the tension. This one should make you think, and most likely identify with the human need to be in denial over dark pasts, family secrets, and tragedy.

The Story: A family gather for a celebration; Helge, the successful owner of a family run hotel in the Danish countryside, is celebrating his 60th birthday: A landmark birthday that is to be marked with a fancy black tie affair at hotel in which his three children Christian, Michael and Helene will attend.

Michael, a hot-heated semi-abusive disappointment to his father feels the need to impress his new-found responsibility to prove himself to his father, oblivious to the recent suicide of his older sister Linda whose funeral he did not attend. Helene, the youngest daughter, struggles to keep herself together despite overwhelming grief from Linda's tragic suicide, but finds herself near breaking point when she finds Linda's suicide note. Christian, the eldest brother, has come from a successful business life in Paris where he lives a troubled life alone having several dysfunctional relationships with women despite being urged by his father to settle down.

At the dinner, Christian makes a devastating revelation during his speech, admitting that his father is not the man he seems and that something from their troubled past may have been the reason his twin sister Linda commited suicide; something the rest of his family are not prepared to face.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 6 October 2000
The other reviewers say it all. Once it starts, you can't stop watching it - not even to put the video on pause to use the loo. It feels much more 'real' than all the plot contrivances of Hollywood, and the characters are as complex, multilayered, persistent, obstinate, flawed and gutsy as we all know real people are - it's just that the unstoppable barrage of pap from the established film industry (I didn't want to say Hollywood again) has made us forget.
If you've fed on mainstream cinema for years, you may think nothing can truly surprise you or engross you ever again. If only you knew! Get Festen and find out.
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on 8 October 2009
A bit disappointed that one review of this film passed moderation so full of spoilers as to reveal the entire plot, but at least the film is good enough to continue to have an impact no matter how many times you have seen it. So knowing all the highlights of the story in advance is not a complete disaster; just blunts the incredible first coup de theatre a bit.

I try to limit myself to one viewing of this film a year and its power never diminishes; you just find new angles. Maybe that's some clue to its greatness, and I use the word advisedly. I have this small theory about films from 'minority' countries, in terms of the global film industry; countries that can more or less expect never to create a global box office hit. They accept their marginal status and make the films they want to, rather than the films they hope people will flock to. In any event, Scandinavia has a record of great film-making out of all proportion to its population, and this is the best I have seen by a margin. It raises endless questions and provides no answers. The very last shot is telling in that respect.

While the film appears to present a clear villain, what of the goodies? Who walks away untarnished? There was once an anti-mugging ad on the Hamburg underground railway. It translated as something like "This man was mugged by 15 people yesterday evening. 14 of them watched." Festen superficially invites a clear right:wrong distinction but any thought at all reveals an awful web of conspiracy, and only perhaps the long-haired waitress and the late arrival seem to have got their heads round it at all. Even the touching and sympathetic character of the chef; the anti-hero's oldest friend. What was he doing? And mother?

Depending on your family background, and the subject matter here is far more prevalent than many of us would care to admit, watching this film could be a traumatic experience. But it is a masterpiece of the film-maker's art and compelling viewing, however harrowing the story. Script, filming, story, cast of characters and acting are all outstanding. I'd buy two copies now, in case you make the mistake of lending it to someone.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 31 July 2000
Festen is a spectacular achievement, an incredible film. It shows Hollywood and other big budget commercial cinema for the bland, vapid, forgettable, unchallenging, uninteresting experience it so often is. Festen uses no artificial lighting, no overdubbing, no elaborate sets, no special effects - none of the techniques that all other films use to manipulate your emotions - reducing the film to its bare bones, script, character, direction, acting. Festen stays with you like no film I have seen in recent years. Its raw production techniques elicit a raw emotional response, and if you're not left breathless there's something wrong with you.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 26 April 2004
thats quite a claim i guess. So why is it so good? In a word realism. Thisis such a brilliant piece of film making because you are placed at thecentre of the story due to the hand held nature of it and the excellentcasting of the entire family means that you beleive in the story. The plotrevolves around how one man tries to exorcise his demons after spendinghalf his life burying the truth about childhood abuse. The thing is thatthis is not a depressing film, it may well make you cry, but theprotagonist Christian is a survivor who succeeds in telling the truth andbeing acknowledged and the ending is occluded. The film is replete withcinematic gems such as the scene when christian asks his father to choosebetween 2 speeches (one green, one on plain paper , making his fatherchoose his own fate) and the way that christian's story is disbeleived,finding the note of a dead sister, the way that dinner guests startchanting a dreadfully racist song in the face of one of the daughter'sboyfriend's face, the way the sceptical brother asks the father to leaveso that they can eat their breakfast. There are many more brilliant scenesbut these come to mind as genius. the dogme series of films has neverlived up to this its initial and captivating picture, i can't recommendthis film highly enough.
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