The Celebration (1998) (R)

"The Celebration", a movie more known for how it was filmed than what it's about, is the film that you didn't want to see about the family that you don't want to have. But please, see this twisted drama about a horrible situation. the family reunion from hell.
It may surprise you, as it did me, to find out that "The Celebration" was one of the first fully digital movies ever made. Only fifteen years ago, an under-budgeted, grainy-filmed movie made its debut and went on to win a prize at the Cannes Film Festival and garner a measly Golden Globe nomination.
So...why has nobody ever heard of "The Celebration"? Because, like so many other movies, it has faded into the background. Perhaps it's the lack of interest that sinks these movies, or maybe it's the way that they are advertised...that it to say, the lack of advertisement.
"The Celebration", more so than any other movie I can recall seeing in the past few years, manages to blend genres perfectly. It's a master at this. This isn't to say that it makes its own category, holds true to the definitions and cliches of many genres simultaneously and rather rigorously. The result is a perplexing work that should be a hot mess, but isn't.
A family returns to the place of their birth in order to celebrate their father's 60th birthday. It sounds like a setting for the perfect Agatha Christie novel. Cue the outrageous cousins and the uncles who all seem to have a motive. Allow one of the major/minor characters who seemed nice get killed off in the first third. Then, let your protagonist emerge and solve the mystery at the last minute.
You could play the movie out like "The Celebration" does. It captures the spirit of looming doom (another fun phrase to say) that Christie can create, it pairs that with the humor of a movie like "My Big Fat Greek Wedding", and somehow manages to generate a Stieg Larsson-like feeling of ick.
To be fair, I can't help but wonder if Larsson did see this film and decided to take some ideas from it...the similarities are quite astonishing.
Three siblings—Christian (Ulrich Thomsen), Michael (Thomas Bo Larsen), and Helene (Paprkia Steen)—return home to a house filled with secrecy, drunkenness, and gloom; but it's all played out with a hilariously vicious lens.
Anthony Dod Mantle's cinematography here is stunning, using just hand-held cameras, he's able to fashion the break-neck speed and urgency that a movie like this needs.
There are so many things that this movie gets right.
Family is the central character in "The Celebration", this establishment is key because the movie wouldn't work without it. The family in the movie, which is cleverly left without a last name, is one that I'm glad I'm not a part of.
"The Celebration" starts off feeling like a comedy. Christian is walking on the side of the road towards the house when his brother, Michael, passes him in a car. He slams on the brakes and backs-up. Then he kicks his three kids and wife out of the car and takes his brother to their childhood house, the wife and kids can walk.
Michael is a mess, he's verbally abusive, confused, and intimidated by his father. Christian and Helene, are equally calm when it comes to dealing with their dad.
Family relations are already strained when Michael learns he wasn't invited...turns out last time they had a get-together he got so drunk and behaved so poorly that his absence was demanded. To offend these people with your drinking takes a lot; because, let me tell you, the booze never stops flowing.
There's a dark secret here, a secret that is a Pandora's box. Once it is open, it can never go back.
The change from what felt like dysfunctional family dramedy to strict drama is startling—it hits you full-on. But director Thomas Vinterberg never breaks his stride as he carries this story to its end.
Thomas Vinterberg draws from so many places and his film is under-appreciated (without "The Celebration", we wouldn't have either "Slumdog Millionaire" or "Upstream Color")'s actually a little humbling to watch.
The film looks incredible, they knew how to make the infant technology work in their favor; but more than that, its story is terribly gripping.
More than anything else previously mentioned, "The Celebration" grasps on to something innately human. The family represented is startlingly believable. 
"The Celebration" is a lost masterpiece.

Score: 4 out of 4 stars

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