Celebration [1981]

Rising to the challenge of Dogma 95's self-imposed restrictions on aesthetic freedom, Thomas Vinterberg's The Celebration is a remarkable example of the way limits can give rise to creative opportunity. (Dogma 95 is a Danish filmmakers collective that also includes Lars von Trier, director of Breaking the Waves. The group crafted a manifesto in which its members vow to eschew special lighting, optical effects, props, and the visible imprint of a director's personality in order to attain higher truths yielded by characters.) The Celebration, shot with a small video camera and transferred to 35mm film, concerns a black-tie birthday gathering for a family patriarch, Helge (Henning Moritzen), which erodes into a battle after long-suppressed secrets are revealed and the chance to settle old scores presents itself. Among the grievances are an accusation of incest and the responsibility for the death of a child--gruesome stuff, but Vinterberg doesn't characterize the partying crowd's reaction in quite the way one might have expected. In fact, the whole of The Celebration is about unexpected perspectives and vantage points emerging from out of nowhere, largely due to Vinterberg's free hand at editing the film in such a way as to yank truth from every corner. This is a strong work that belies skepticism over Dogma 95's bare-bones trendiness, and is perhaps a harbinger of great work to come from Vinterberg. --Tom Keogh

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