Thursday, November 24, 2005

Day 55: The Celebration

Before I begin, I'd like to note that someone clicked on a link to this blog after Googling the phrase:  what general belief about pride and prejudice are the makers of this film version trying to dispel and/or what interpretation are they putting in its place?  In answer to the question without having seen the movie, I'd venture a guess that they're trying to dispel the belief that pride and prejudice are bad things and that the interpretation they're putting in its place is that Donald Sutherland is, in actuality, a mushroom.  Just a guess.

It was a deliberate, cheeky choice on my part to watch this movie with the intent on reviewing it today, Thanksgiving 2005.  I confess to finding the whole thing superbly ironic that, on a day when most Americans are gathering together with their families to make merry and consume, I've got to write a review about this particular movie.  And, while The Celebration is a movie about the nature of family and asserts the power of the family group, it's certainly not a feel-good reinforcement of the safety found in the warm embrace of one's family. If you're looking for something like that, I'd direct you to Jurassic Park or Mrs. Doubtfire.  Now leave us alone.

The Celebration is one of the Dogme films, Dogme '95 being a movement to strip the artifice from movie making in favor of filmmaking with a more direct, improvisational spirit.  It's a harsh, pointy movie in every way, from its splotchy, grotesque video, to the way it unravels the truth about the family in question.  The setup itself is confrontational: a large family gathers to celebrate the father's sixtieth birthday and the oldest son, Christian, uses this opportunity to level allegations of sexual abuse at his father.

But what happens after he speaks up is unique and honest.  The family barely bats an eye, unsure how to take the charges, whether as a joke or something serious to deal with.  They continue their gaudy meal and Christian, only slightly deterred, continues to bring the topic up.  After dealing with this for a certain amount of time, the family rises up against him, throwing him out of the birthday party so that they don't have to put up with his disturbances.  Even still, he's not done.  The movie milks the situation for bleak humor at every opportunity.  Everyone wants to enjoy the party, they want to be polite, but they're unsure how to react to Christian.

I enjoyed the way the movie depicted a family circling its wagons against a perceived threat, both at the beginning of the film and at the end.  And the style of the film is absolutely perfect for the material; jittery hand-held camera shots capture the intensity of the narrative, but the movie also knows when to be still.  Ulrich Thomsen, as Christian, is magnificent.  His blue eyes are both dewy and steely at the same time, and, accordingly, he plays the character as a man deeply hurt, but possessing enough inner strength to deal with his pain.

It's an angry movie, rife with confrontation and rage.  It's well acted and well produced, even under the strict Dogme requirements.  But, though it's so bleak, it's, really, a heartening testament to the notion that families protect themselves against anything threatening.  Even when the threat comes from within their own ranks, the movie's point is that they'll adapt in order to flush the intruder out.  As such, it feels as much an observant, character study as it does a film about biology, about the way the survival of humanity is so dependent on social structures and the safety net they provide.  For this reason, despite the rancor and screaming, it inspires far more comforting thoughts about the way families work for people than anything Chris Columbus has made.

1 comment:

zora said...

a little funny trivia from across the big blue: in germany, one of the women is dubbed with the same voice as is bart simpson - giving us the doubtable pleasure of hearing bart simpson having sex. disturbing! one of the best arguments against dubbing - and, in the context of the movie, adding another layer to it... anyway, as viewer you feel like witnessing a similar incident as christian accuses his father of...