The Dogme 95 Manifesto dictates that those filmmakers who subscribe to it must adhere to the following set of rules:
- Shooting must be done on location – no props or sets allowed.
- Sound must be captured during the shoot, no post production addition of effects, dialogue, narration or music allowed.
- The camera must be handheld at all times.
- The film must be shot in color without the use of anything other than natural lighting.
- No optical effects or filters are allowed to be used on the camera.
- No superficial action such as an onscreen murder permitted.
- No temporal or geographical alienation permitted.
- Genre movies are not allowed.
- The film must be shot in Academy 35mm.
- The director cannot be credited in the film.
It was under this manifesto that Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg wrote and directed his film The Celebration or (Festen in 1988, a movie that would earn him the Special Jury Prize at the 1988 Cannes Film Festival. Quite an achievement for a film shot under what are essentially very minimalist conditions.
Helge Klingenfeldt is celebrating his sixtieth birthday, and in celebration of this he gather his large family all together at his prestigious country home. On the surface, it would seem that Helge is very much a loved and respected man both in the family and in the community in which he lives. The staff of the country home have all been working double time to get everything in order and the stage is set for a grand celebration and employees and relatives alike are all on their best behavior in order to pay tribute to him.
Sadly, Helge's oldest daughter has recently committed suicide and so he asks his oldest son, Christian, to give a speech in her honor on his behalf so that he doesn't choke up in front of all of his guests. Little does Helge know that his son has already prepared for this speech, as well as a second speech – each on a separate piece of colored paper. He has his father pick one of the pieces of paper and hand it to him, when he declares that he is now going to read 'the speech of truth.' Helge becomes quite upset when his son reveals the truth about his oldest daughters death in front of all of the guests and his once joyous birthday party turns into a nasty family dispute.
The Celebration is part family drama, part black comedy. There are a lot of strong satirical elements running through the film, making for some awkwardly funny moments and a couple of semi-disturbing ones as well. Luckily the performances are strong enough to keep what could have easily turned into a second rate soap opera a taut film with a compelling storyline. Every family has its secrets, its skeletons in its closet and a few little bits and pieces of information that they'd rather not leak into the general populace, but the Klingenfeldt family has a few doozies that prove that the wealthy can be just as dysfunctional, oft times more so, than the poor or working class.
The cinematography, because everything was shot handheld in accordance with the aforementioned Dogme 95 manifesto, does take some getting used to but once your eyes adjust to the business of the camerawork it's easy to feel almost as if you're in the house with the characters. The look of the film almost resembles a home movie at times and while this may not seem to be the most professional choice, it's all quite intentional and it does work in the films favor more often than not. There are a few scenes that would have benefited from at least using a tripod but most of the time everything stays in focus and maintains a rather intimate look.
The film was shot for a fullframe presentation and that's how Universal's DVD is displayed as well. Picture quality is quite good, though due to the nature of the 'Dogme 95' style of filmmaking sometimes the lighting is too dark and the image is a wee bit muddy from time to time because of that and of course, again due to the style, there is a lot of shakey camera work. Those stylistic choices aside, there's a nice high level of detail in the film and not too much in the way of mpeg compression to complain about. The transfer isn't going to blow your mind or anything, but it looks pretty good.
The film is presented in its original language track, that being a Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono Danish affair with optional subtitles available in English, French and Spanish. The subtitles are displayed in white text inside black bars that appear on the screen and this does obscure more of the image than it really has to, which is a tad disappointing. Other than that, the audio track is fine for a mono mix. The dialogue is clear without any audible hiss or distortion.
Universal has supplied absolutely no extra features for this DVD at all.
The Celebration is an interesting experimental film that succeeds considerably more often than it fails. The story is interesting, the performances quite good, and the look and feel of the movie is unique. Universal's DVD looks and sounds ok, though the lack of extras is a disappointment. Regardless, the DVD comes recommended based on the strength of the film alone.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.