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The Celebration: Criterion Collection (1998) - Blu-ray Review

The Celebration: Criterion Collection

Perhaps one of, if not the most important film movement in cinema’s history is that of the French New Wave, that made its audacious emergence in the late 1950’s and lasted until about the late 1960’s. Throwing out every rule of the dominating studio system, this movement took to the streets (literally) by shooting on location, using (mostly) non-professional actors, having very low-budgets, and gave directors immense recognition that would eventually be coined as the auteur theory. To the opinion of many, this movement changed everything in the film world. 

"Vinterberg is a filmmaker who knows how to hold the audience right in the palm of his hand, and The Celebration is a prime example of that"


However, as the years went on, there are some who saw through the romanticism of this movement. They would say that the new wave movement “proved to be a ripple that washed ashore and turned to muck,” only getting weaker, not stronger, as it progressed. Harsh words? Perhaps…but are they wrong? Well, I suppose, that is up for debate. But the authors of those rather scathing words stood strongly by what wrote, and in the spring of 1995, two Danish filmmakers felt it was time for a new movement – something perhaps even more radical than the French New Wave. It was time for Dogme 95.

As Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg put it in the Dogme 95 manifesto (yes, a manifesto), “DOGME 95 is a rescue action!” They wanted to take the superficial illusions out of cinema. With a new set of rules called “THE VOW OF CHASTITY,” filmmakers could no longer rely on/hide behind the conventions and technology of what is now commonplace in moviemaking. This is about as stripped-down as filmmaking gets.

To kick off the Dogme movement, in 1998, Thomas Vinterberg delivered to us Dogme #1: The Celebration. Though knowing what this movement is about and its parameters, when turning on the film, the extremely low-quality look of the film still comes as a bit of a shock. Being such a drastic shift from the usual cinematic look of most films, Vinterberg’s sophomore film most closely resembles that of a home movie from the 1990’s. However, once the film is quickly off-and-running, the quality is quickly ignored. It looks cheap, of course, but it undoubtedly showcases the eye of a truly talented filmmaker.The Celebration: Criterion Collection

In fact, the film displays unique shots that perhaps would not otherwise been seen with the use of giant conventional cameras and methodically placed lights everywhere. Rather, we get to see radical and chaotic shots. They are visually jarring, but they benefit the story amazingly by adding to the tension and craziness of the story’s family members. Which of course, brings us to perhaps the most compelling aspects of the film: the story. 

Yes, the visuals are unique and interesting, but there is no doubt it would be as good (or as successful) as it would be if the story was to be subpar. With a shocking family secret bubbling under the surface, the customs of the bourgeoise to ignore any embarrassments cannot last any longer when Christian (Ulrich Thomsen) drops finally brings this horrific family truth to the surface. Not many films or shows of that time, and even today, can successfully handle the delicate subject of incest in such a compelling way, but The Celebration definitely does. 

Of course, when the moments of confrontation do occur in the film, it is somewhat hard to watch, but the film is so much more than a typical melodrama. It is exciting and chaotic, but also has wonderful touching moments that expertly balances the three siblings’ intersecting storylines as they journey through the party. Vinterberg is a filmmaker who knows how to hold the audience right in the palm of his hand, and The Celebration is a prime example of that. And thanks to the Criterion Collection, you can finally see this revolutionary film at home in a stunning new 2K transfer!

5/5 stars

 

The Celebration: Criterion Collection

Blu-ray Details

Home Video Distributor: Criterion Collection
Available on Blu-ray
- January 11, 2022
Screen Formats: 1.33:1
Subtitles
: English
Audio:

Discs: Blu-ray Disc; Two-disc set; BDs
Region Encoding: Locked to Region A

The Danish Dogme 95 movement that struck world cinema like a thunderbolt began with The CelebrationThomas Vinterberg’s international breakthrough, a lacerating chamber drama that uses the economic and aesthetic freedoms of digital video to achieve annihilating emotional intensity. On a wealthy man’s sixtieth birthday, a sprawling group of family and friends convenes at his country estate for a celebration that soon spirals into bedlam, as bombshell revelations threaten to tear away the veneer of bourgeois respectability and expose the traumas roiling beneath. The dynamic handheld camera work, grainy natural lighting, cacophonous diegetic sound, and raw performance style that would become Dogme hallmarks enhance the shattering visceral impact of this caustic indictment of patriarchal failings, which swings between blackest comedy and bleakest tragedy as it turns the sick soul of a family inside out.

Video

Presented in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio, the film looks, well…the best that it possibly can look, considering the strict parameters that it was made under. The transfer, having started from the film’s original DigiBeta tapes, is quite impressive. The new 2K resolution is fantastic. The colors and shadows have a nice, consistent quality and contrast. Any type of imperfections that may have been previously there are gone completely. Overall, a wonderful restoration.

Audio

With the original monaural soundtrack remastered from the 35mm optical soundtrack positive, the film sounds quite good. Every rage-induced fight and every emotionally shocking speech made comes in clear as day. 

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • There is an audio commentary from 2005 featuring Vinterberg

Special Features:

Rejoice!  Fans of this feature are in for a totally immersive experience. As always with the wonderful Criterion Collection releases, this newly restored version of The Celebration is absolutely PACKED with extra content that features a behind-the-scenes look at not only the making of the film, but also a rare glimpse into the conception and journey of Dogme 95 movement and the pioneers involved in it. Plus, there is much included about director Thomas Vinterberg and reflections on his filmmaking career. All of this and more packed into the (very appropriately) minimalistic case and cover that features the Dogme 95 rules and the infamous “Vows of Chastity.”

  • New interview with Vinterberg
  • Two early short films by Vinterberg: Last Round (1993) and The Boy Who Walked Backwards (1995)
  • The Purified, a 2002 documentary about Dogme 95, featuring interviews with Vinterberg and filmmakers Søren Kragh-Jacobsen, Kristian Levring, and Lars von Trier
  • Program in which Vinterberg discusses the real-life inspiration for the film
  • Documentaries featuring members of the cast and crew at the film’s premiere in Copenhagen and reflecting on the production
  • ADM:DOP, a 2003 documentary profile of cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle
  • Deleted scenes, with optional audio commentary by Vinterberg
  • Trailer
  • PLUS: An essay by critic and author Michael Koresky

Blu-ray Rating

  Movie 5/5 stars
  Video  4/5 stars
  Audio 4/5 stars
  Extras 5/5 stars

Composite Blu-ray Grade

4.5/5 stars


Film Details

TThe Celebration: Criterion Collection

MPAA Rating: PG-13 on appeal for crude sexual content and language.
Runtime:
105 mins
Director
: Thomas Vinterberg (uncredited)
Writer:
Thomas Vinterberg; Mogens Rukov
Cast:
Ulrich Thomsen; Henning Moritzen; Thomas Bo Larsen
Genre
: Drama
Tagline:
Every family has a secret
Memorable Movie Quote: "This family is kaput!"
Theatrical Distributor:
October FIlms
Official Site:
Release Date:
October 9, 1998 (limited)
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
January 11, 2022.
Synopsis: On a wealthy man's sixtieth birthday, a sprawling group of family and friends convenes at his country estate for a celebration that soon spirals into bedlam, as bombshell revelations threaten to tear away the veneer of bourgeois respectability and expose the traumas roiling beneath. The dynamic handheld camera work, grainy natural lighting, cacophonous diegetic sound, and raw performance style that would become Dogme hallmarks enhance the shattering visceral impact of this caustic indictment of patriarchal failings, which swings between blackest comedy and bleakest tragedy as it turns the sick soul of a family inside out.

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TThe Celebration: Criterion Collection

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