On one of the Communicating in Film classes we watched a Danish film made in 1998 called Festen, which can be translated as “celebration”. It was directed by Danish director Thomas Vinterberg, who along with Lars von Trier has founded an artistic movement called Dogme 95. The main goal of this filmmaking movement was to make movies as real as possible; as close to reality as possible. The Dogme 95 directors set up a list of principles they had to follow when making a film. These rules were the following:
1. Filming must be done on location. Props and sets must not be brought in. If a particular prop is necessary for the story, a location must be chosen where this prop is to be found.
2. The sound must never be produced apart from the images or vice versa. Music must not be used unless it occurs within the scene being filmed, i.e. diegetic.
3. The camera must be a hand-held camera. Any movement or immobility attainable in the hand is permitted. This film must not take place where the camera is standing; filming must take place where the action takes place.
4. The film must be in colour. Special lighting is not acceptable (if there is too little light for exposure the scene must be cut or a single lamp be attached to the camera).
5. Optical work and filters are forbidden.
6. The film must not contain superficial action (murders, weapons, etc. must not occur.)
7. Temporal and geographical alienation are forbidden (that is to say that the film takes place here and now).
8. Genre movies are not acceptable.
9. The film format must be Academy 35 mm.
10. The director must not be credited.
Festen was the first movie of this Dogme 95 movement, and we watched it in the class under the subject of realism. These movies, along with Festen, were interesting attempts to capture real events, or to capture certain events in a very honest and credible way. I won’t spoil the film for you, it’s enough to say that Festen was about a great Danish family and circle of friends, who were celebrating the 60th birthday of Helge, the head of the family. They were having a great time until the youngest son, Christian (Ulrich Thomsen) stood up to share a little story about himself, her dead twin-sister and their father… events take a rather disturbing turn at this point.
Yes, it’s a movie with quite bizarre and disturbing themes, but that’s one of the most important parts of these realist films: they are honest. They are honest in the way that they don’t hide or cover anything up. If a scene or dialogue demands profane words, then they will show it; if there are some disturbing, hard-to-take-in themes going on, they will talk about it. Festen is a great example of realism regarding narrative and the more technical aspects of filmmaking, too. It delivered all the aforementioned principles of Dogme 95: it had a hand-held camera; it used only the natural or already existing artificial lights of the location; it sometimes had awkward and unusual images proving that the film took place where the action took place, and not the other way around, etc. I’ve never seen a movie like this before, so it was a very interesting experience. It didn’t have all the stylized takes and set-ups so reminiscent of modern day movies. However, I felt that the filmmakers became the people who they didn’t want to turn into. I think the whole idea behind this Dogme 95 was to make films that aren’t all about the style, the cinematography, the editing and these stuff. I thought that the goal was to make people forget that these are films, and to let audiences concentrate on the story itself. But I don’t think that this goal was achieved here, because all I was focusing on was the very interesting style of the movie. The story itself – even though it was complex – wasn’t such a huge experience to me. I couldn’t really relate to the characters because they felt so cold to me, and I think it was mainly because of the cinematography, the editing, the lighting, etc. I mean, it’s great that they could create psychologically complex characters on screen; that’s truly a good thing. There’s no absolute good or absolute evil in this film. I like this approach to characters. Still, somehow I kept forgetting about the story, about the people in it, and I found myself concentrating on the techniques this film applied. And I think this defeats the purpose in a way. At least in my opinion. But feel free to argue! Festen: a really interesting movie, you should check it out if you want to see something different. But for me; I couldn’t really relate to the story or the characters at all. Still, worth watching!