It is often said that you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family, which seems to be proved in the case of Thomas Vinterberg’s 1998 psychodrama Festen. When Helge Klingelfeldt invites his family and friends to his vast hotel to celebrate his 60th birthday he hopes that his three surviving children, Christian, Michael and Helene, Christian's twin sister Linda recently committed suicide at the hotel, will attend and give the impression of a united, happy and loving family. That evening as the assembled gathering take their places at dinner Christian raises his glass in what they think will be a poignant toast to his father. But his eldest sons speech is certainly unexpected and leads to a tragic and heart breaking night where Happy Families will never again be the game of chose.
This is the first film created under Dogma 95 rules. Founded in 1995 by Vinterburg and Lars von Trier it was set up to purify filmmaking by not using special effects, post production modifications and other things deemed as ‘technical gimmicks’. The filmmakers were to concentrate on the story and the actor’s performances. Among the rules laid down are that the film must be shot on location, no music should be used unless it occurs where the scene is being shot, all camera work to be hand held and in colour, no special lighting and the film must be shot on 35mm stock.
|Sister Helena is deeply effected by Christian's speech.|
As far as Festen was concerned this way of filmmaking could not disguise the fact that Vinterberg and co-writer Mogans Rukov produced an extremely well written script, the acting is first rate and movie is superbly well directed. Christian is played by Ulrich Thomson who appeared in the German film The Silence (2010) and In a Better World (2010), which won Best Foreign Language Film at both the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards. We saw Thomas Bo Larsen, who plays Michael, in another of Vinterberg’s film’s The Hunt (2012) which tackled alleged child abuse and Danish actress Paprika Steen, who portrays sister Helena, was in the British film Skeletons (2010) with Jason Isaacs.