Festen 1998 ***

After a decade of misfires, Thomas Vinterberg found himself back on form with The Hunt in 2012; his break-though film was 1998’s Festen, a cleverly constructed family drama that’s since become a hit play. Christian (Ulrich Thomson) is the eldest son of a family enjoying gathered together to celebrate the 60th birthday of father Helge (Henning Moritzen), but his speech proves to be a turning point. He has two speeches, one which is what he’s expected to say, the other is the truth. Offered the choice, the audience plump for the second, only to be confronted by  a bitter accusation of sexual abuse. Whether the family believe this accusation makes up the nub of Festen’s running time, and the fallout from Christian’s speech is spectacularly acrimonious. Festen’s lean, sparse account of genuine issues prompted the Dogme movement of lo-fi filmmaking, but it’s a one-off experimental film that, like its central character, isn’t afraid to ask big questions.


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