Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Film #45: The Celebration

The Dogme 95 film movement was the brainchild of Danish directors Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg, who, on a spring day in 1995 Copenhagen, penned a filmmaking "Vow of Chastity" as a laugh and a liberating gesture from the expensive technologies and tired formulas that plague many filmmakers. Then, along with fellow Danes Soren Kragh-Jacobsen and Christian Levring, they created Dogma 95, the strict yet freeing film movement whose works pulse with vitality, all while sticking to this "Vow of Chastity," which prohibits Dogma-bound filmmakers from using artificial light, weapons (as plot elements), music scores, make-up, sets (all films are shot on location), props and costumes (to be owned by the actors themselves) and which demands that Dogma films be shot on digital video, with on-location sound and hand-held cameras. If a Dogma filmmaker achieved these goals (and if the list of any broken rules was approved by the four filmmakers on the board), then they got a certificate like this one awarded to Von Trier for his difficult but rewarding The Idiots:

The idea behind all this is that, if a filmmaking team could concern itself less with complicated production concerns, then emphasis would naturally shift back to a film's really important elements -- story and performance. Von Trier and company maintain they did this as a joke assignment for themselves, but the idea took an insane root (to the point where Dogma wanna-be Harmony Korine tried to get then-girlfriend Chloe Sevigny pregnant so she could play a pregnant character!). To date, though, the movement has, alas, contributed only one masterpiece.

But the first Dogma 95 movie is an undisputed stunner. The Celebration , coming across like a distaff version of Bergman's Fanny and Alexander, tells the story of a well-to-do family who, having just returned from the funeral of the patriarch's suicidal daughter, launch too
soon into a 60th birthday party for Father (chillingly played by Henning Moritzen). As the "celebration" gets underway, the dead girl's twin brother (a tricky Ulrich Thomsen) lets loose with some shocks that leave the party's guests -- and the viewer -- questioning their loyalties. No more will be revealed, for this is arguably the most suspenseful movie ever made that doesn't have a bloody death threatening its characters. The whiff of a gloomy supernatural presence, though, does spook The Celebration, which is given a distinctively hazy look through the use of digital video noise. Immediate and alive, 1998's The Celebration, directed by Thomas Vinterberg, has rightfully ascended as a crown jewel in the Danish film output. See it immediately.

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