Festen [1998] Movie Family gathered inside the house

Festen [1998]

As you keep visiting this site (hopefully :)) you can actually see how I am discovering these movies. In this instance, I first watched Jagten [2013], liked it very much, and then subsequently watched Festen [1998] from the same director Thomas Vinterberg. I vaguely recall this movie and all the commotion around it when it came out, after all, it’s the winner of Cannes 1998 and widely respected movie. Another funny thing about it is the unusual style of directing and camera work, closely following Dogme 95 rules.

Tired of all the stereotypes in film-making, a couple of Danish directors got together and invented Dogme 95, a set of rules that basically boils down to three of them: use a handheld camera and no special effects or music of any kind. The main priorities are the characters and the story. Popular for quite some time, this set of rules is relatively forgotten now, but Festen still stands tall as one of the best movies made using these rules, but also as an independently flawless movie that deserves much more than I can conjure up in this short review.

Celebration Festen 1998 Poster

It is the year 1998 in Denmark and guests are slowly starting to arrive at a giant mansion to celebrate its owners’ sixtieth birthday. Helge is now 60 years old, still living at the mansion with his wife while most of his kids are spread across Europe in search of a better life. They are doing relatively well, the ones that are alive that is since one of his daughters took her life in that same mansion. Too overwhelmed by her death, Helge asks his son Christian to make a speech instead of him. At the same time Michael, a rather obnoxious and aggressive guy, is already stirring shit up, same as last year…

Festen concludes your movie night because, after it, any movie seems childish and underdeveloped. The levels of realism, dialogue, and basically everything else are off the charts, making this movie a once in a lifetime experience that will stick with you for a long time. It just shows what can you do without a big budget and special effects. “Are you believing this” is the sentence you will be saying a lot (if you’re watching it with someone (actually…)), trying to wrap your head around the story that is so realistic that it sometimes just breaks all barriers and transcends into surreal. Just watch the movie, and don’t be afraid of the weird camera, it will blow you away…

When all the lights are shining towards the actors, you better make sure you have good fucking actors! And have they did. Ulrich Thomsen, Thomas Bo Larsen and Paprika Steen all had amazing and captivating performances. You simply knew you will be seeing them a lot in the future. Out of those three, I kept stumbling upon Ulrich as I was going through Danish movies. Blinkende lygter, Adams æbler, Den du frygter and Hævnen, just to name the few of the best. 

Director: Thomas Vinterberg

Writer: Thomas Vinterberg, Mogens Rukov

Cast: Ulrich Thomsen, Henning Moritzen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Paprika Steen, Trine Dyrholm, Lars Brygmann

Fun Facts: On March 28th, 1996 the Danish National Radio (DR) broadcast “Koplevs Krydsfelt” when an anonymous caller, “Allan”, told his story about an unusual speech he held at his step-fathers 60th birthday. One of the many listeners to this strange story was director Thomas Vinterberg, who was inspired to make his first Dogme movie.


IMDb Link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0154420/

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