Urban Cinefile
"I think there is a piece of me that is very gypsy-esque and maybe one day I could write a book that says, 'and then she took off and now she's working in Uganda' - "  -Kim Basinger
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday March 20, 2018 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



In the Danish summer guests arrive at a magnificent old hotel for the 60th birthday celebration of Helge Klingenfeldt (Henning Moritzen). Present are his loyal wife Elsa (Birthe Neumann), daughter Helene (Paprika Steen) and sons Christian (Ulrich Thomsen) and Michael (Thomas Bo Larsen), who arrives uninvited after failing to attend the funeral of Christian's twin, Linda, who committed suicide. As the evening progresses, Christian feels compelled to break the silence surrounding a dark family secret. The effect is explosive and sets the tone for a 'celebration' no-one will forget.

"Thomas Vinterberg, 28 years old when he directed Festen, has stated that his objective is to "force truth out of his characters by all means available and at the cost of any good taste and aesthetic considerations". He's kept his word with this harrowing, funny, shocking and immensely moving account of a party gone horribly wrong. At least for some members of this dysfunctional family. But the cathartic experience also provides glimmers of hope for other members whose lives have been profoundly damaged. Unlike the repulsive Lars Von Trier film The Idiots, Vinterberg has a real story to tell and attacks it with intelligence. His subject matter is humanity stripped raw, fed to itself and spat out like broken glass. It is ideally suited to the Dogma manifesto and as captured documentary-style on video cameras and blown up to grainy 35mm film the impact is even more chilling as the veneer of middle-class respectability disintegrates. Lightening the somber mood are some short jabs of humour and a supernatural aura surrounding the recently deceased Linda whose spiritual presence plays a major role. "There have always been ghosts in this house" observes Helene. She's right and not all of them are dead either. For escapism look elsewhere; for compelling and truthful human drama start right here."
Richard Kuipers

"Written and directed by Thomas Vinterberg (a signatory with Lars von Trier to the Dogma 95 pledge, which forbids, among other things, the naming of a director) - Festen won the special jury prize at Cannes in 1998. Dogma 95 does not permit artifice - no extraneous lighting, props, sets or costumes. Locations and what they contain are what is used. Cameras must be handheld (Vinterberg confesses to a transgression or two). The result would be extraordinary anyway, but somehow the strictures only enhance the breathtaking honesty and raw power of this deceptively serene and sunny movie. The performances - by an ensemble of Denmark's finest stage and film actors - are probably landmarks in their individual careers. As well as ripping away the sunny facade of the jolly family gathering, Vinterberg also turns over the stereotype of Danish society as somehow more tolerant and liberal than most. The result is a movie of rare and enormous power and integrity. We know immediately that Christian is gong to tell the family that his father was a molester of his twin children. But what Vinterberg then does with this unhappy family is unpredictable, original and brilliant. Cannes got it right."
Diana Simmonds

"This is one hell of a film. Made under the rules of Dogma 95, Festen has all the elements of the best drama without using any of the current customary film techniques. Director/scriptwriter Thomas Vinterberg has understood perfectly what it takes to make such a film work. That being a story of many layers, continual revelation of both plot and character, humour to balance the pathos, and trust in the ability of exceptional actors. And what actors he has working with him here. All are tremendous talents and each has pushed their work to the absolute extreme, producing a stunning array of wonderfully rich and horribly flawed characters. As for the story, it seems Vinterberg has called on another set of rules, Aristotle's unities of time, place, and action, to get him through. If it worked for the Greeks 2000 years ago when they had only the basic elements of theatre (a stage and actors), then it would logically work here with similar limitations. And work it does. This is a gem of a film. Utterly riveting from start to finish, it reaches a depth few films ever manage. And it will stay with you for a very long time."
Lee Gough

Email this article

Favourable: 3
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0


See our European correspondent
Jorn Rossing Jensen's
interview with



CAST: Ulrich Thomsen, Henning Moritzen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Paprika Steen

PRODUCERS: Birgitte Hald

DIRECTOR: Thomas Vinterberg

SCRIPT: Thomas Vinterberg, Mogens Rukov


EDITOR: Valdis Oskarsdottir

MUSIC: Lars Bo Jensen


RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 11, 1999

Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2018