A real surprise this one – a family get-together that goes horribly wrong but at the same time provides redemption, Thomas Vinterberg’s film (he went uncredited as director, as per Lars Von Trier’s ‘Dogma’ rules), with an electrifying screenplay by Winterburg and Mogens Rukov, has more than a few nods to Harold Pinter’s play The Homecoming, with its sense of impending doom and menace that grips early and holds until very near the end.
However, unlike Pinter’s play, the narrative is not circuitous or vague – it is the 60th birthday of Danish hotelier patriarch (Faderen-Father) Helge (Henning Moritzen). From far and wide, his friends gather to pay tribute, while his sons Michael (Thomas Bo Larsen) (a doting, angry young man) and Christian (Ulrich Thomsen) (a seemingly placid, quiet individual) arrive and begin the preparations for the party. The brothers are very close – but Christian has plans in store for the celebration (Festen) that will change the lives of everyone around the table. A few details that he wants to share concerning his ‘relationship’ with the old man, and the fun begins when he clinks his glass to make a ‘tribute’ speech…
Singularly disturbing, moving, in places hysterically funny despite its dark heart and ultimately uplifting, Festen is very much a one-off. Perhaps surprising that, to the best of this reviewer’s knowledge, an American remake has not yet been mooted but one supposes, unfortunately, that there is still time.
The brothers’ performances take centre stage, but, in fact it is Moritzen as the father who knows far more than he lets on, and Birthe Neumann as his wife, Else, who has been complicit in the evils of the past, that make the most enduring impression – and the whole is a simply unforgettable account of a party you’ll be ‘glad’ you were invited to, for all the wrong reasons.
105 mins. In Danish, German and English.