The Celebration, Thomas Vinterberg’s most astounding creation to date, is as realistic as it is confusing. Ironically, it’s sometimes relatively easy to mistake a deeply dramatic scene for a comedic one. This is a sharp and somehow disturbing tragicomedy that reveals the transformative power of truth, showing how a seemingly ordinary birthday party can change into an acute contest filled with accusations and revelations. After a rough and intense night no one is left unharmed, and the characters subconsciously know that even before they start to delve into the past.
A cultivated and wealthy patriarch Helge (Henning Moritzen) is having a huge, luxurious 60th birthday party, and the whole family is invited. In the group there are three of his children: Michael (Thomas Bo Larsen), a chronic and irascible boozer, Helene (Paprika Steen), an anxious and depressed anthropologist, and Christian (Henning Moritzen), a withdrawn and angry restaurateur, whose twin sister recently committed suicide, among other guests. Before the party even starts, the intimacy of the main characters is exposed, as they plunge deeper into the state of irrepressible existential angst with their peculiar pre-party ‘preparations’. When the family gathers for a sit-down with the man of the night, a huge feasts begins and toasts are about to be made. As of then, nobody even expects that Christian is about the make a shocking Speech of Truth, one that will change the course of the whole evening, destroy the relations between the relatives, and ultimately cause a hell of a farce. By accusing his father of sexual abuse when he and his loving sister were little (additionally pointing out that his father is the true killer behind the sister’s suicide), Christian only encourages others to expose their true feelings. What began as a celebration of one happy man’s birthday turned into a violent, alcohol and hate-filled showcase of the most shocking kind. The gradual loss of innocence (though it’s all right to assume that such a disturbing even took place before) is properly ‘enriched’ with a Dutch racist song, a few fights, a few bottles of wine, and a late-night dance that is supposed to smooth the whole repugnant situation. It’s only surprising to observe as all the relatives eat breakfast the next morning in the exact same place, looking into each other’s eyes without any apparent regret.
Indisputably, The Celebration is Vinterberg’s visionary approach to a family-in-shambles. As in every other Dogme 95 picture, the realism of the whole story is enhanced through on-location shooting, natural sounds, hand-held cameras, and no additional effects whatsoever. Even though it’s hard no to laugh at times, the devastating power of this film is as harrowing as the main characters are cold-blooded and self-contained.