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RCE Info


Celebration (The Criterion Collection), The

The Criterion Collection // Unrated // January 11, 2022
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Ian Jane | posted February 15, 2022 | E-mail the Author

The Movie:

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.
rnSound must be captured during the shoot, no post production addition of effects, dialogue, narration or music allowed.
rnThe camera must be handheld at all times.
rnThe film must be shot in color without the use of anything other than natural lighting.
rnNo optical effects or filters are allowed to be used on the camera.
rnNo superficial action such as an onscreen murder permitted.
rnNo temporal or geographical alienation permitted.
rnGenre movies are not allowed.
rnThe film must be shot in Academy 35mm.
rnThe 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 its native Danish) 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 gathers 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 daughter's 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 Video:

The Criterion Collection brings The Celebration to Blu-ray framed in 1.33.1 in AVC encoded 1080p high definition, taken from a new 2K digital restoration, approved by director Thomas Vinterberg on a 50GB disc. Given the film's origins and production history, this transfer looks very good, certainly a nice improvement over the previous domestic DVD release. You can't expect the picture quality to match a more traditionally made production, but detail is, overall, quite good here though it definitely fluctuates noticeably from scene to scene, often times clearly dependent on the lighting. Colors look quite natural and black levels are decent. Depth and texture also vary from scene to scene, again the lighting being an obvious factor here. Keeping in mind the impact of the Dogme 95 Manifesto on the visuals, it's hard to imagine the picture looking a whole lot better than it does here and it would seem to replicate Vinterberg's intentions in terms of the film's look.

The Audio:

A Danish language 24-bit LPCM Mono option is provided on the disc, with removable subtitles offered in English only. Again, the limitations of the source material are, at times, quite obvious but if we remember that the film was made under some pretty strict restrictions, it makes sense that the results would be as they are. The track is usually balanced well enough but there are times where dialogue can trail off a bit and things can sound a little flat or muffled. That said, this would once again seem to align with Vinterberg's intentions.

The Extras:

Extras on the first disc start off with an archival audio commentary from 2005 with Vinterberg that spends a lot of time discussing the origins and intentions of the Dogme 95 manifesto, who was involved in the movement, why they felt it was important to use these rules when making films, the way that they went about making the films and, of course, how The Celebration came to be. He talks about the people that he partnered with to make the picture, casting the film, working with the different cast and crew members and more.

New to this release is an interview with Vinterberg that runs for nineteen minutes which was recorded in 2021. Here, Vinterberg covers yet more of the details behind the Dogme 95 movement but he also goes over how he got into filmmaking, influences that had a hand in his work, creating The Celebration and working with Lars von Trier.

Finishing up disc one are a trailer for the feature, menus and chapter selection options.

On the second disc we get a selection of twelve deleted scenes, with optional audio commentary by Vinterberg. These are interesting to see and the commentary does a nice job of not only putting them in context but also explaining why they were excised in the first place.

Up next is a twenty-five minute Behind The Scenes featurette that was made for Danish television back when the movie was still in production. There are interviews here with Vinterberg as well as most of the cast members. Complementing this is the ten minute Disclosure Of The Celebration featurette that was made in 2005 and features Vinterberg talking about what inspired him to make the film and alterations that he made to make to the real life events that served as its genesis.

The Purified is a very substantial seventy minute 2002 documentary made in 2002 that goes into quite a bit of detail about the Dogme 95, featuring interviews with Vinterberg and filmmakers Søren Kragh-Jacobsen, Kristian Levring and Lars von Trier. These extensive interviews allow the different filmmakers to explain their respective reasons for adhering to the manifesto, what they hope to achieve by making movies under this set of rules and express their thoughts on why it matters and on cinema in general.

ADM:DOP is a thirteen minute short documentary made in 2003 that serves as a quick but interesting career profile of cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle. He gives us some quick background information here and explains the methodology that he employs in his work as a cinematographer.

Criterion has also included on this second disc a pair of early short films by Vinterberg. The first is 1993's Last Round, which runs thirty-three minutes. The second short film is The Boy Who Walked Backwards from 1995 and it runs thirty-nine minutes.

Accompanying the two discs in the set is a color insert booklet that contains an essay by critic and author Michael Koresky titled How Long Can This Go On? as well as technical information about the presentation and credits for both the feature and the Blu-ray release.


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. The Criterion Collection's presentation of the film is excellent and the supplemental material included does a great job of exploring the film's production history and the cinematic movement that gave birth to it. Recommended.

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.

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