Starring: Ulrich Thomsen, Henning Moritzen, Thomas Bo Larsen
Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Running Time: 105 mins
The Celebration (Festen) is a Danish film about a family who congregates to celebrate their patriarch’s 60th birthday, but the festivities take a turn for the worse when dark secrets are revealed.
Dangling dangerously on the line between brilliantly dark comedy and desperately bleak drama, The Celebration is by no means the easiest watch in the world. In fact, as entertainingly dark as it is at times, it’s a film that’s tough not to look away from, such is its penetrating satire on the trials of family life.
You know what a good Scandinavian comedy-drama is like, but The Celebration is a film that pushes those dark, narratively challenging tendencies a little further. Of course, things don’t start off that way.
The opening stages of the film are a clever set-up for the chaos that unfolds later. For the most part, it’s a fast-paced but rather zany affair, with the different family members all congregating at a large country hotel ahead of the patriarch’s 60th birthday.
With complex family relationships being thrown at you left, right and centre, it’s a rapid-fire comedy that touches (at first) lightly on the trials and tribulations of family coming together, with a delirious and dizzying atmosphere exacerbated by the film’s spinning fish-eye cinematography.
The story starts off with a much heavier tendency towards comedy, with lively performances from leads Ulrich Thomsen, Thomas Bo Larsen and Paprika Steen as the three siblings in charge of running the show as their relatives from across Denmark and Europe arrive.
However, as some desperately dark revelations begin to come out, the movie begins to take a dramatic turn for the bleak. And when I say ‘bleak’, I really mean bleak, because The Celebration goes to some very, very dark places.
At that point, it’s difficult to know what to laugh at and what to grimace at, as things become desperately uncomfortable, and ever more dizzying on account of the film’s increasingly loose and crazed camerawork.
As things fall apart, The Celebration certainly loses its entertaining edge, but it still has that sharp, penetrating satire of family life, portraying the many different family roles and the potential destruction of the entire institution.
Come the final act, The Celebration is by no means an easy watch, with deeply uncomfortable drama taking the place of the sharp and zany dark comedy of the early stages. It’s a challenging watch, but ultimately an impressive and above all memorably bleak one. So, that’s why I’m giving The Celebration a 7.5 overall.