50 years ago
geezer cinema: e.t. the extra-terrestrial (steven spielberg, 1982)

the celebration (thomas vinterberg, 1998)

It would be exaggerating to say that I don't like Dogme movies. It's true that I don't seek them out, but ultimately, that comes from my disliking most of the Lars von Trier movies I've seen (Melancholia excepted). Thomas Vinterberg, who along with von Trier created Dogme, has made a couple of movies I've liked (The Hunt and Another Round). The Celebration was the very first Dogme movie, and it's a good one.

The tone of the film is tricky. At first, you're not sure if it's a comedy, and there are some funny moments in the story of a well-to-do family coming together to celebrate the father's 60th birthday. As is usual in families, everyone has their problems, and it's clear that this family's celebration is likely to be turned on its side. What I wasn't expecting was how that turn would be so serious.

Over the course of the film, we learn of the darker side of the family, but even then, Vinterberg allows himself to indulge in some humor. Some call The Celebration a dark comedy, and I suppose that's accurate, but it downplays just how that darker side plays out. There is nothing funny about it.

The large cast is good throughout, with Ulrich Thomsen having the juiciest role, and he definitely delivers. This is not a family I'd want to be a part of, but in Vinterberg's hands, it's a family worth spending time with. As for the Dogme 95 elements, much of what we expect from movies today is stripped away, leaving handheld cameras and detailed character development with a complete lack of special effects. Honestly, it just looks like an indie film, and you don't need any knowledge of the Dogme Manifesto to appreciate it. #421 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.


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