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aka - The Celebration
Denmark 1997
Directed by
Thomas Winterberg
102 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars


The flag-bearer for the Dogme Manifesto, a set of ten back-to-basics precepts for film-making formulated in 1995 by Winterberg, Lars von Trier and a couple of less-well known directors, Festen won the Special Jury Prize at Cannes. A kind of Buñuelian black comedy about a 60th birthday dinner party for a well-to-do businessman and would-be family patriarch (Henning Moritzen) goes very wrong, the film utilizes a low-fi aesthetic with hand-held cameras, natural sound and lighting, location filming only (no sets) and no post-production to speak of bar the transfer from video to film.

Such technical aspects may not please everyone, but the film itself is a well-written (by Vinterberg and Mogens Rutov) ensemble character piece with strong performances by all concerned that transcends any art-for art's sake pretensions as it depicts the kind of deeply-hurtful events that can affect any family. In this case one of the sons, Christian  (Ulrich Thomsen) confronts the guest of honor with an accusation of a long-ago act of incest that contributed to his (Christian's) twin sister's recent suicide.

Whilst perhaps the extremity of the scenario puts the film at the outer limit of probability if you have a taste for dysfunctional family films, Festen is one of the more trenchant examples to be found.




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