The Celebration (1998)

No one seems to be enjoying themselves at Helge (Henning Moritizen)’s 60th birthday party. As the patriarch of the family, he has a reputation as a demanding, almost fickle man. His sons Christian (Ulric Thomsen) and Michael (Thomas Bo Larsen) arrive to the family home to find neither one of them were listed on the guest list. Their sister, Helene (Paprick Steen) is given the room of their deceased sister, Linda, who committed suicide and Helene insists her ghost still lingers in the place.

As the camera bobs and weaves past people, through the rooms, floating up above the members of the family, one wonders if Helene is right. Anthony Dod Mantle’s cinematography suggest as if the audience might be taking the perspective of Linda’s ghost, wandering through the house, hoping for some sort of release from what trapped her in life that she thought she could escape from through death.

Christian has a theory about why Linda took her own life and at the dinner party he reveals it. The revelation leads to all sorts of chaos. Some family members turn on Christian, trying to shove him out for bringing up such a stink in the family. The kitchen staff steals all the keys of family members so that they’re forced to stay and deal with the revelation Christian drops in the midst of the family.

The Celebration is a biting examination of the follies of a social and familial repression of evil. As Christian exposes this truth about the wickedness that exists in the family, everyone does their best to deny it. Those who are victims of this evil remain silent, others who refuse to believe it express anger and rage at Christain, those closest to this evil attack Christian’s character, saying he must be imagining things.

Through these various means, The Celebration argues that social orders, and perhaps even human nature, desires to think the best of itself, to not want to look at the evil within. To expose such evil is to threaten the social compact and the identity of the people who want to consider themselves right and good by denying the awful truth.

However, by exposing these evils, Christian opens a way into something else. After the fallout from his revelation, the tension and conflict between siblings, there’s a breakthrough into something far more festive than the quaint, white-washed illusion of propriety and decency of the official family dinner. The siblings find themselves enjoying themselves deeply and fully in the wake of finally exposing evil, by releasing it the evil loses its power over them and they can celebrate like fools.

The film hinges on its final moments. In true arthouse fashion, it’s an ending that leaves a lot of space for the audience. It wonders what one does with evildoers one the evil has been exposed. Of course, such an issue could comprise its own film, so The Celebration opts to leave the film on an end note that fails to go full circle, but perhaps that’s the point.

© 2014 James Blake Ewing