Festen (The Celebration)
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FestenThe Celebration (1998) dir. Thomas Vinterberg

I'd hate to be a tripod salesman in Europe.  Although the list of rules has been thrown out, the low-fi, handheld, naturally lit style that Dogme 95 represented is pretty much the norm with serious-minded independent films - or at least the award-winners that get distribution here in Arkansas.

Vinterberg made Festen a tremendously engaging film.  He focused on characters, story and plot, proving that studio and government money is unnecessary to create works of art.

A party is held at a hotel to celebrate

the wealthy patriarch's 60th birthday.  Old secrets are boiling, and things quickly spin out of control.  The lack of artifice is built right into the plot.  We know people like this.  We're not quite sure how to react, either in the movie or in life.  We care about these people, and the camera stays as quiet as possible so we can listen in on their lives.

But just because low-fi worked for Festen doesn't mean it will work for anything.  I'm tired of Hollywood directors sneaking in handheld segments to seem artsy.  I don't enjoy watching YouTube videos made by people who decided lighting and sound don't matter.

Vinterberg and Trier were right to move on.  Festen didn't prove that low-fi is better or inherently less distracting or more honest than large budget productions.  Rather, it proved that different styles can work in appropriate settings.

Festen is #878 on the Top 1000 Films list I’m working on.  I’ve now seen 372.