Three adult children, one with a family, return home to the hotel-restaurant their father owns to celebrate his 60th birthday with a crowd of guests. It soon becomes evident that there are stresses in the family – one brother finds there’s no room reserved for him because he misbehaved on a previous occasion; the other brother is asked to speak about his twin sister, who is dead; and when the remaining sister discovers that she’s been given her dead sister’s room, we learn that the dead sister was a suicide. Before the film ends, the family will be cracked and broken, and no one more so than the father, as one son reveals a shocking secret and the other children, at first resistant, come to believe him.
Having married into a Danish-American family made the film’s setting and characters seem quite familiar to me. Some of the songs the guests sing were songs we too have sung at birthdays; the faces and names of the characters looked and sounded like people who might be part of our extended family. This made the shocking and terrible parts of the film even worse for me (my daughter had a similar reaction).
Festen (The Celebration) was made under the strictures of Dogme 95, but I can’t say that I noticed much different from other films or that this made it difficult to see the film. I of course watched with subtitles (annoyingly, they were cut off a bit at the bottom by my television or just by the DVD). I left the sound audible and did not notice any problems with that either. After looking at the “rules” of Dogme, I did realize that the songs that were sung at the party were the only music, but it wasn’t a glaring omission that I noticed during the film. This was a very good film, well-acted and photographed, and though it’s obviously not one for children or young teenagers, I’d recommend it to others.