Blu-ray Review: The Celebration [Criterion] | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Saturday, May 28th, 2022  

The Celebration

Studio: The Criterion Collection

Jan 27, 2022 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

The people over at Criterion weren’t just having a Yeezus moment when they decided to release their new edition of Thomas Vinterberg’s The Celebration without formal cover art. Consisting merely of a sticker on a blank case with all of the contents inside clearly visible, it really is the perfect visual representation not only of the film, but the cinematic movement in which it was conceived.

Looking to strip away the artificiality and frills of commercial cinema, Vinterberg and fellow Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier conceived Dogme 95, a radical movement that forbade seemingly integral cinematic conventions such as artificial lighting and scored music, along with pioneering the usage of handheld digital cameras. Allegedly created in a drunken stupor by the two Danes in half an hour, the list of 10 rules (or the “Vow of Chastity”) a filmmaker must abide by in order for their film to be considered a Dogme project unexpectedly laid the groundwork for the most influential film movement of the past 30 years.

Though it has inevitably seeped into the mainstream through widespread usage of digital cameras in 21st century filmmaking, the gritty, home-movie feel of the first Dogme films is still visually off-putting to this day. Whether it’s the cheap look of early digital cameras or the intentional shoddiness of the production (there are several shots in The Celebration in which the boom mic is clearly visible, and even one where the camera is directly reflected in a mirror), there is an abrasiveness and sense of filmic transparency within Dogme.

Centering around a family party in honor of patriarch Helge’s (Henning Moritzen) 60th birthday, The Celebration closely follows his son Christian (Ulrich Thomson), who gives a speech in which he discloses the sexual abuse that both he and his late sister endured as children at the hands of their father. As stated in Michael Koresky’s essay on the film featured in the Criterion booklet, it was unusual at the time of the film’s release to see male trauma explored on screen. Vinterberg has no problem going there, narratively chipping away at the veneer of societal superficiality and exposing the hurt and repression that exists beneath it all.

The visual unpleasantness and hyperrealism of Dogme works on an emotional as well as an aesthetic level and provided a perfect vehicle for exploring uncomfortable thematic territory in cinema. Early Dogme films such as The Celebration, Lars von Trier’s The Idiots and Harmony Korine’s Julien Donkey-Boy all feature confrontational and provocative subject matter, highlighting how important the movement was in bringing challenging narratives to late 20th century cinema. The visually degraded and low-quality imagery seen in these films reflect the vulnerable nakedness of the characters that exist within them, resulting in a radical and acerbic means of storytelling that’s a little like the case for The Celebration—completely transparent, with absolutely nothing to hide.

And while the case for this new edition of The Celebration is obviously bare bones, there’s certainly a lot in terms of special features. Boasting four whole hours of extras plus a commentary by Vinterberg on both the feature film and the deleted scenes, there’s a barrage of material to get lost in. Among the most interesting of the extras is the 2003 documentary The Purified, which features Vinterberg and von Trier along with the other two Dogme “brethren,” Danish filmmakers Søren Kragh-Jacobsen and Kristian Levring, together watching each of their own Dogme films and poring over whether they faithfully abided by the “Vow of Chastity.” The documentary highlights not only the artistic freedom that can come with rule-imposing, but also the subjectivity within what constitutes as breaking the rules. It’s also quite interesting to see behind-the-scenes footage from the infamous gang-bang scene in The Idiots.

Other notable features include two of Vinterberg’s short films made before The Celebration: 1993’s Last Round, which was his thesis film at the National Film School of Denmark, and 1995’s The Boy Who Walked Backwards. Both films showcase Vinterberg’s developing voice as a filmmaker and his penchant for depicting male vulnerability on screen. Also of interest is a near 10-minute interview with Vinterberg in which he divulges the backstory of what inspired The Celebration, which is honestly almost as interesting as the film itself.



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