Under the relentless force of Thomas Vinterberg's hand-held camera, we watch the celebrants dance to the music of disintegration.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

"The Celebration" is a party to remember. It is the initial film of Denmark's Dogma 95, a collective of film directors announcing itself as a self-styled rescue operation of contemporary moviemaking. To illuminate the inner lives of their characters, they have decreed the use of a hand-held camera and ruled out special effects and music. The director of this riveting inaugural film is the hugely talented 29-year-old Thomas Vinterberg, who, under the new rules, takes no directing credit for the work.

A family is gathering at the country estate to celebrate the 60th birthday of its patriarch. Helge (Henning Moritzen). Helge's oldest son, Christian (Ulrich Thomsen), returns with a boiling resentment: he will confront his father with the incestuous cruelty he visited on his children. Younger brother Michael (Thomas Bo Larsen) is simmering with anger at the family who has dismissed him correctly as a ne'er-do-well. Volatile sister Helene (Paprika Steen) is a loose cannon. Two days earlier, a funeral was held for the fourth sibling.

Despite relinquishing the director's credit, Mr. Vinterberg's hand is so strong here that he will be given the credit he has not asked for. He takes his camera right into the faces of the family, looking for truth. As Christian's accusations pierce the air in bursts of revelation, the guests try ever more desperately to maintain the pretense of the gathering by covering themselves with the civility we all employ in the face of public trouble. When things are fine, dinner guests talk about nothing; when things turn nasty, they talk about nothing more intensely.

By the time Christian returns to the table for a second round of home truths, the guests are drinking heavily and listening to the mother toast thirty years of fine marriage with the husband who has just been revealed as a monster. Their children are doing well, she says: Michael, always away; Helene, the family loner; and Christian, a creative child who, she reminds them, has always had trouble distinguishing between fact and fiction. And the party goes on.

In a small role, played magnificently, the Master of Ceremonies (Klaus Bondam) uses every ounce of his sophisticated calm to keep the evening in hand-to no avail. Before long, the guests are singing a racist song to the sole black man present. Helene is sobbing in the bathroom. Christian is tied to a tree. And the guests are marching through the house playing imaginary trumpets, a parade of loyalists determined to ignore the truth that has exploded in their midst.

A father sent his children out into the world with terrible wounds, and he lives to suffer the confrontation. The details of the public confrontation and of the human behavior that erupts around it become far worse for the audience than they might have been if accompanied by the distractions of conventional filmmaking. Under the relentless force of Thomas Vinterberg's hand-held camera, we watch the celebrants dance to the music of disintegration. It is harrowing.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 499
Studio : October Films
Rating : R
Running time: 1h46m

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