Festen/The Celebration (1998)

Festen:The Celebration (1998)Another film I noticed when I watched documentary series The Story of Film: An Odyssey (2011), mentioning Festen/The Celebration (1998) in the last episode as film progresses from celluloid to digital. Noted as the first film recorded on domestic home video cameras. At the time a radical move to make, part of a movement of film-making known as Dogme which stripped back film-making to the essentials, the plot which is what I got most out of the film myself.

Of course by todays standard of slick films it visually it comes across as amateur, there’s no lighting, relying entirely on the natural illuminations of the rooms/sets they are in. Yet at the same time we have all made videos on our phones or cameras with little thought, just in the moment. Capturing moments in our lives. This is about capturing whats in front of the camera a little else. Which is a family coming together for a 60th birthday part at a hotel they own, where all hell breaks loose.

From the opening scenes we see two brothers, one Christian (Ulrich Thomsenwalking down the road, passed by his brother Michael (Thomas Bo Larsen) in his car with his family. Deciding to throw his wife and kids out in favour of his brother, we can tell already where loyalties lie in the very fractured family who come together, fighting from the moment all three siblings meet at the hotel. We can see what their family is life, just by looking at these three including sister Helene (Paprika Steen). The importance of appearances is very important as they meet all the extend family and friends, keeping the host face on as long as possible.

Sounds like your average family drama with all the big revelations that come out over the next 24 hours. Its intensity is built up in the intimacy of the hand-held camera that can get into angles and places that a hunky standard film camera had no chance. Today we can achieve the angles with ease on a daily basis on our smartphones without even thinking about the meaning of the angle, the emotion, the thought behind it, they are throw away in comparison to this carefully constructed film, just like any other, which threw out all the gloss to leave the camera and the actor. Who themselves had to be the camera-man to get the shots.

It has opened off the possibility of film, who can make film has becoming a universal act. Pick up a camera and shoot, If you’re lucky enough you can get paid for it which is always a bonus. But is that a good thing, when everyone can make a film? I mean are they all worth watching, would they reach a wide audience or just a handful. Some are just home-movies, not open for mass consumption. It has allowed for new forms of film and documentary to be made, how we see the world, when big events happen, we see YouTube/phone camera footage on the news within hours of the story breaking. How we view film has in that context has changed, the speed of production can be a quick as adding a filter to being a two minute film made in one shot. Creativity has blossomed. Yet there is still something in a film that as intimate as Festen that really pushed the boundaries of how we view and shoot a film. It would really be something to see this film projected, how would the quality of the image be affected, would it matter after all when you have such engaging characters all of whom we can relate to?

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