Wayners Wants to Festen
By Wayne Aronsen | Images property of October Films
Festen (The Celebration). A Danish film from 1998.
Thomas Vintegerg: writer and director.
Cast: (You likely won't recognize any of these names but they deserve to be mentioned).
Ulrich Thomsen (the tortured son)
Henning Mortizen (the father in for the surprise party of his life)
Thomas Bo Larsen (maybe one of the worst husband/father/son bullies I have ever seen)
Birthe Newman (the mother- Scandinavian women make good-looking grandmas)
Paprika Steen (the ungrounded sister)
My motto-review movies I think are worth it. Who wants to re-live a bad date?
Festen (The Celebration)
Don't mistake fun for good. "Festen" was not an easy film to watch, but why leave it to the students and critics? Take a risk. Rent a foreign film. Try this one.
Some ethnic groups get all the press these days. What about the much over- looked Scandinavians: those light skinned (though we tan nicely), tormented souls of the North, where psychic pain originated. Theories that claim cultural heritage as part of our genetic code used to bother me. Now I'm not so sure.
Vinteberg, as writer and director, presents us with a rambling, hectic, yet fascinating day in the reunion/birthday celebration of the patriarch owner of a plush hotel in Denmark. Betty Davis predicted such an evening in one of her films, "fasten your seat belts", she said, "we're in for a bumpy ride". So it is in "Festen".
At times, during the film, I feel like I'm watching one of those honeymoon videos stolen and sold by the recently fired upstairs maid. Except, no sex in this one. At least, none that we see. But like those little curmudgeon Norwegian trolls, secrets lie lurking under the bridge ready to grab your ankle.
The first indication of the ride ahead is the filming technique: hand held cameras (popular today in reality shows and police dramas), that roll about and pursue characters in often awkward angles and non-stop motion. The viewer is kept constantly unsettled, like watching a wedding reception video gone awry. In fact, the bully-brother says just that; "the evening has gone amok", though he uses the German phrase, "kaput".
Maybe you don't like subtitles. Don't be so lazy! It's worth the work. One added advantage; you can pause a scene, study the agonized or humiliated expressions of the characters, and have the dialogue printed underneath.
This family has pain packed away like party favors. At least the Brits can pretend it's not there and remain civilized. When good young Christian, the oldest son, decides to unpack his psyche, the Danes are once again in the great hall of their barbarian heirs-the Vikings.
All this occurs with a room full of guests-who are related somehow to the father.
Their contributions are minor except for my favorite: a man who claims over and over that he is in danger of becoming depressed. In this film, that is the least dangerous emotion. In fact, it would have been a relief.
So why watch it? The film is fascinating; like attending a friend's Thanksgiving dinner and finding out way more than you planned. But a dinner you will never forget.
Stay tuned for updates.
Sources: Images property of October Films
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