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The Celebration

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Led by Danish director Lars Von Trier, 1995 saw the introduction of Dogme '95 (that's Danish for "Dogma"), the first formalized film movement in some time. Signed by a group of like-minded directors, the Dogme '95 "Vow Of Chastity" contains 10 points, among them prohibitions against props, shooting anywhere but on location, the use of anything but handheld cameras, genre films, and the crediting of directors. As arbitrary as the vow may seem as a grand statement about how films should be made, The Celebration, the first fruit of the movement—and, despite the lack of on-screen credits, the work of director Thomas Vinterberg—proves that it can be a tool to make extremely powerful movies. The cause for the celebration of the title is the 60th birthday of a powerful patriarch (Henning Moritzen), an occasion that finds all his friends and family gathering at the converted hotel he has turned into a home. Most notable among those in attendance are his three children: a troubled black sheep (Thomas Bo Larsen), a free-spirited daughter (Paprika Steen), and an introspective prodigal son who now lives in Paris (Ulrich Thomsen). They are haunted, at times it seems literally, by the recent death of their sister, particularly Thomsen, her twin. Nevertheless, all seems to go as well as expected until Thomsen's dinner salutation. Vinterberg establishes the potency of the Dogme approach early on, introducing characters and their various relationships in the most naturalistic way possible—outside of some effective, stylized editing—at times recreating the sort of home movie that might have been made at the event anyway. The segments that follow Thomsen's announcement, however, make the greatest impression, as the gathering's dynamic, its desire to restore order against Thomsen's best efforts to push it toward catharsis, plays itself out. Whether a genre or not, plenty of films have been made about dark family secrets, but few are as honest and moving as The Celebration. However esoteric the tenets of Dogme '95 may sound, Vinterberg has created an extremely approachable work, an unflinching, darkly comedic, and profoundly humane film. It's likely to touch something close to most people's experiences of living in the world in a way that makes movies like Hope Floats seem truly bizarre.