Yesterday I watched ‘Festen’ on video, I taped it from television last week. I saw it in the cinema already, but I did not mind seeing this masterpiece again. Of course the surprise effect, an important element of the film, was gone the second time, but I felt almost the same tension. Festen tells the story about a large family, who all gather at the large parental countryhouse to celebrate the 60th birthday of the father. Inevitably the dark family secrets come to the surface, a well-known movie theme.

Already from the opening sequences it becomes clear that this is not going to be a smooth, harmonious family reunion. The most important part is played by son Christian, a timid, quiet character. The recent suicide of his twin sister causes uneasy silences in the house. Furthermore his brother Michael has a very aggressive nature and a drinking problem. His sister Helene appears to be emotionally unstable. More troubles occus when her boyfriend shows up, he is American and black. Michael, already the bad guy, appears to have racist sympathies as well, and tries to send him away. Various other family complications turn up later in the story. The main happening is the family banquet. It all starts as a traditional event, with food, lots of drinks and speeches. But then Christian takes the word and everything runs out of control… A peculiar role is played by the staff of the countryhouse, who intervene secretly in some of the events.

‘Festen’ is directed by Thomas Vinterberg, and is made according to the Dogma rules. That means no special effects or overdubs, and a blurry, handheld camera. This gives the film a documentary-like appearance and an appropriate feeling of claustrophobia. The acting is very convincing and ‘naturel’. A grim, very realistic movie, skillfully crafted. Although the manner of narrating is relatively light, some heavy issues are dealt with, on the sometimes thin line between love and hate.