A taut drama that grabs you by the collar and never lets go. On the eve of uber-patriarch Helge Klingenfelt's (Henning Moritzen) 60th birthday, his entire family -- including his three surviving adult children -- return to the imposing family
manor/hotel to celebrate. Successful restauranteur Christian (Ulrich Thomsen), who hasn't been home in years, immediately encounters his mad-dog brother Michael (Thomas Bo Larsen), who offers Christian a lift and jettisons his wife (Helle Dolleris) and three kids in order to accommodate him.
Director Thomas Vinterberg's flamboyant staging of this establishing episode promises a unique visual and narrative experience, and what follows doesn't disappoint: The director and his gifted cast exude tenderness, despair, anomie and mischief. With graceful economy and wit, we're introduced to a
large ensemble that includes prickly anthropologist daughter Helene (Paprika Steen), her African-American boyfriend (Gbatokai Dakinah) -- who causes quite a stir in this conservative milieu -- and icy mother, Elsa (Birthe Neuman). The festivities begin exuberantly, but it's soon clear that that
characters have entered a fetid swamp of interpersonal relationships, and the film is in no way diminished if you go in knowing that Christian's toast to his esteemed father includes a bombshell. Urbane and notoriously jolly papa, says Christian, molested him and his late twin Linda for years.
Wreaking havoc with our cinematic expectations, Vinterberg more than delivers on his promise "to force the truth out of my characters and settings." This first film made using the strict rules of the Danish Dogme 95 manifesto -- which dictates technical austerity, from hand-held camera to the
absence of a musical score -- is a smashing success, both as technical experiment and as distinctive cinematic storytelling. Critics may find the film's style flashy, pretentious or even dizzying, but it has a welcome and all-too-rare energy and vigor. Vinterberg's film is the bracing kick in the
pants contemporary cinema needs.
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- Released: 1998
- Rating: R
- Review: A taut drama that grabs you by the collar and never lets go. On the eve of uber-patriarch Helge Klingenfelt's (Henning Moritzen) 60th birthday, his entire family -- including his three surviving adult children -- return to the imposing family manor/hotel… (more)