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  • Writer's pictureJames Rutherford

'The Celebration': A Wicked, Utterly Captivating Tale of Family Dysfunction from Denmark

Movie poster for the Danish film The Celebration starring Henning Moritzen and Ulrich Thomsen

The first film from the celebrated “Dogme 95” movement of the 1990’s (favoring naturalism over artificiality), “The Celebration” ("Festen") is an absorbing Danish drama from 1998 about a spirited and emotionally charged family reunion in rural Denmark.

As the extended family converges upon the family-run hotel in Zealand to celebrate the 60th birthday of the family patriarch, Helge (Henning Moritzen). Helge’s eldest son Christian (Ulrich Thomsen) is steeped in mourning over the recent suicide of his twin sister, Linda. Helge harbors furious resentment toward his father for childhood abuses, and his volatility drives him to a point of emotional frenzy amidst the ongoing festivities. With the family gathered to toast and celebrate Helge, Christian openly accuses Helge of abusing both himself and Linda as children—unleashing a maelstrom of denial, accusation and animosity amidst the extended clan members.

Written and directed by Thomas Vinterberg, purveyor of the Dogme 95 manifesto alongside Lars Von Trier, "The Celebration" a wicked and transgressively twisted affair, replete with shocking trauma, dark humor and haunting touches of supernatural undertones. As emotionally captivating as it is undeniably compelling, this winner of the esteemed Jury Prize at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival set the tone for a new era in cinema, and delivered something indelible to audiences that still resonates over 20 years later.


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