Contemplating the uncertain future of commercial cinema, two exceptionally talented Danish men Lars von Trier (Dogville, Dancer in the dark, Breaking the Waves) and Thomas Vinterberg hugely influenced by French new wave and realism started a moment that would revolutionise the way independent cinema would be made. It was the Dogme 95.
The Dogme 95 was created to purify cinema of the technical glitches refusing the special effects and the over-production hence concentrating on the story and the actors’ performances which they believed would better engage the audience. The moment sparked an interest in other filmmakers with a hope that they could make quality cinema and gain recognition without being dependent on huge Hollywood budgets and other commissions.
The moment was short lived mainly because of the rules that were laid down to make a dogme 95 type movie, which the creators called the ‘VOWS OF CHASTITY’, some of the interesting ones include
Shooting on location
Using only a hand held camera
No use of props or lighting or music unless it has to occur within the scene
The film should not contain superficial action (murders, weapons etc)
Director should not be credited
Initially these rules were violated by the founding members themselves but nevertheless it breathed fresh air and relief from the stereotype.
This avant-garde filmmaking technique broke in 2005 with 38 films made.
The reason I’m writing this is to actually talk about the classic that was made during this moment. It is Thomas Vinterberg’s Danish family drama Festen (Celebratation). The strength of Festen is that like Von Trier’s ‘Breaking the Waves’ it uses emotional outbursts as a tool for self actualization (and intense melodrama). Mostly the movies in this genre have sought to prove their realistic approach by being supremely nihilistic whereas Vinterberg’s film is completely converse.
To me cinema’s greatest achievement is to pull you in into it and make you live through that drama, that is exactly what festen achieves in doing, with a very simplistic storyline, terrifically real performances, and superb writing (Thomas Vinterberg and Mogens Rukov). Let me just give you an insight about what it is, Helge is celebrating his sixtieth birthday and has invited his two sons, daughter and the whole family for the celebration, what could possibly go wrong, well that is for you to watch. The reason why it works so well is that you get completely unaware of what to expect next and that will keep you absorbed and leave you shocked.
Festen is one of the reasons to bow down to Dogme 95. It is a must watch, ‘a celebration’.