Festen (also known as The Celebration) is a 1998 Danish black comedy-drama film directed by Thomas Vinterberg and produced by Nimbus Film.

Theatrical release poster
Directed byThomas Vinterberg
Produced byBirgitte Hald
Morten Kaufmann
Written byThomas Vinterberg
Mogens Rukov
StarringUlrich Thomsen
Henning Moritzen
Thomas Bo Larsen
Paprika Steen
Birthe Neumann
Trine Dyrholm
Music byLars Bo Jensen
CinematographyAnthony Dod Mantle
Edited byValdís Óskarsdóttir
Distributed byScanbox Danmark
Release date
  • May 1998 (1998-05) (Cannes)
  • 19 June 1998 (1998-06-19) (Denmark)
Running time
105 minutes
BudgetUS$1.3 million

With a budget of US$1.3 million, the film tells the story of a family gathering to celebrate their father's 60th birthday. It is a dark comedy juggling subjects of death, trauma and family. Vinterberg was inspired to write it with Mogens Rukov, based on a hoax broadcast by a Danish radio station.[1]

It was the first Dogme 95 film, an artistic movement created by Danish directors Vinterberg and Lars von Trier. The movement preferred simple and analog production values to allow for the highlight of plot and performance. Festen was selected as the Danish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 71st Academy Awards, but was not accepted as a nominee.[2][3] In addition, it won the Jury Prize at Cannes Film Festival in 1998.


Helge (Henning Moritzen), a respected businessman and family patriarch, is celebrating his 60th birthday at the family-run hotel. Gathered together amongst a large party of family and friends are his wife Else (Birthe Neumann), his sullen eldest son Christian (Ulrich Thomsen), his boorish younger son Michael (Thomas Bo Larsen), and his well-traveled daughter Helene (Paprika Steen). Another sibling, Linda, has recently taken her life at the hotel. Helene finds Linda's suicide note, but hides it in a medicine bottle after becoming upset by the undisclosed contents. Michael fights with his wife, whom he had earlier abandoned on the roadside with their three children, and then has sex with her. He later beats a waitress of the hotel after she pulls him aside to discuss that he had impregnated her in an affair.

At Helge's birthday dinner, Christian makes a toast to his father. During the toast, he publicly accuses his father of sexually abusing both him and his twin sister (who has recently killed herself) as children. After an initial shocked silence, the party goes on as usual as guests decide to move past the moment in denial. Helge pulls Christian aside to engage in a baffled conversation about his accusations. He questions his motivations for slandering him, and Christian appears to recant his accusation. However, Christian is spurred to further action by hotel chef Kim (Bjarne Henriksen), a childhood friend who knows about the abuse. Christian then continues his toast by accusing Helge of causing Linda's death through the trauma caused from the abuse. Helge speaks to Christian alone and makes threatening offers to bring up Christian's troubled personal history including his impotence with women and his perhaps-incestuous relationship with Linda.

Further exacerbating the tensions of the day, Helene's black boyfriend Gbatokai (Gbatokai Dakinah) shows up, causing the racist Michael to lead most of the partygoers in singing the Danish song "Jeg har set en rigtig negermand" to offend him. The song contains racist remarks as it describes people of varying colors with lyrics such as “a real negro man, black as a bucket of tar,” and “a Chinese man, yellow as a bottle of soda water"

Else later makes a toast where she makes insulting comments towards her children. During this she accuses Christian of having an overactive imagination. With this, she asks him to apologize for his earlier statements and accusations. Christian then accuses her of knowing about the abuse yet not interfering. Michael and two other guests eject Christian from the hotel as guests are still in denial of the incident and are angered by Christian. Christian walks back in and they beat him and tie him to a tree in the woods outside of the hotel. He unties himself and returns. The waitress, Pia, finds Linda's suicide note and gives it to Christian.

Christian gives the note to Helene and she reads it aloud in front of the party guests. In the note, Linda states that she is overwhelmed by trauma from Helge's abuse. Helge admits to his misdeeds and leaves the dining room. Christian has a hallucination of Linda, causing him to faint. As he awakes, he learns that Helene and Michael are missing. Michael, also drunk, calls Helge outside and beats him severely. The following morning, the family and guests eat breakfast when Helge comes in and speaks to the group. He admits to his wrongdoing and declares his love for his children. Michael tells his father to leave the table.



The movie's score is minimal. The film contains no music throughout the performances. Its first musical piece is a rendition of Frank Mills's "Music Box Dancer," played over the closing credits.[4][5]


Festen is best known for being the first Dogme 95 film (its full title in Denmark is Dogme #1 – Festen). Dogme films are governed by a manifesto that insists on specific production and narrative limitations (such as banning any post-production sound editing), in part as a protest against the expensive Hollywood-style film-making. The movie is a low budget film and was shot on a Sony DCR-PC3 Handycam on standard Mini-DV cassettes.[6]


Some years after making the film, Vinterberg talked about its inspiration: a young man told the story on a radio show of the host Keld Koplev. Vinterberg was told about it by the friend of a psychiatric nurse who claimed to have treated the young man. He listened to the radio programme and asked the scriptwriter Mogens Rukov to write a screenplay on the events,[7] as if it were the young man's own story. It was later revealed that the story was completely made up by the patient receiving mental care.[8]


Festen has earned positive reviews. Based on 34 reviews collected by the film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, 91% of critics gave the film a positive review.[9] Roger Ebert gave the film three out of four stars, writing that the film:

mixes farce and tragedy so completely that it challenges us to respond at all. ... Vinterberg handles his material so cannily that we must always look for clues to the intended tone.[10]

Psychologist Richard Gartner,[11] who specializes in counseling men who were sexually abused as children, writes that Festen is a praiseworthy film that accurately depicts the consequences of sexual abuse:

The extent of the father's transgressions is revealed bit by bit in successive revelations. We see that the son has been severely damaged by his boyhood abuse, and has been incapable of intimate relatedness throughout his life. His sister, who has committed suicide, was also deeply damaged. The father denies the incest through most of the movie, and this denial is conveyed and reinforced in the reactions of those who hear the accusations. The partygoers are momentarily shocked by each disclosure, but then continue to celebrate the birthday in a nearly surrealistic manner that serves as a dramatic enactment of the chronic denial often seen in incestuous families.


Festen won the following awards:

Stage adaptations

Festen has frequently been adapted for the stage; as of 2008 there have been adaptations in more than 15 languages. 

The English-language adaptation was written by David Eldridge. It premiered at the Almeida Theatre in 2004 in a production directed by Rufus Norris, before transferring to a successful West End run at the Lyric Theatre, London until April 2005. It commenced a UK tour in February 2006, before transferring to Broadway. Despite its great success in London, it closed after only 49 performances on Broadway, ending on May 20, 2006. It opened in Melbourne, Australia in July 2006 starring Jason Donovan. An Irish production ran in the Gate Theatre, Dublin, from September 2006 to November 2006.

In 2006, a Mexican adaptation opened, starring Mexican actor Diego Luna. In September 2007 a Peruvian production opened starring Paul Vega and Hernan Romero under the direction of Chela de Ferrari.

The Company Theatre mounted the Canadian premiere of Festen in November 2008 at the Berkeley Street Theatre in Toronto. This production was directed by Jason Byrne and starred Eric Peterson, Rosemary Dunsmore, Nicholas Campbell, Philip Riccio, Allan Hawco, Tara Rosling, Caroline Cave, Richard Clarkin, Earl Pastko, Milton Barnes, Gray Powell and Alex Paxton-Beesley.

The Shadwell Dramatic Society's production of FESTEN opened at the ADC Theatre, Cambridge on the 6 March 2012.

In July 2018 Play Dead Theatre's production of FESTEN opened at the Rippon Lea Estate in Melbourne. It was directed by Jennifer Sarah Dean and starred Adrian Mulvany.

See also


  1. Christensen, Claus (May 18, 2003). "Der var engang en fest". Ekko. Archived from the original on August 19, 2009. Retrieved August 19, 2009.
  2. Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
  3. "45 Countries Submit Films for Oscar Consideration". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. 19 November 1998. Archived from the original on 19 February 1999. Retrieved 20 October 2015.CS1 maint: unfit url (link)
  4. "The Celebration [1998, pt. 2]". Dailymotion. p. 40:00. Retrieved 2014-10-20.
  5. Leeper, Mark R. (1998). "'The Celebration': A Film Feview by Mark R. Leeper". IMDB. "rec.arts.movies.reviews" Newsgroup. Retrieved 2014-10-20. [T]he film has a minimum of music—the first music in THE CELEBRATION is a music box heard over the end-titles.
  6. "IMDB Technical Specs: The Celebration (1998)".
  7. Christensen, Claus (May 18, 2003). "Der var engang en fest". Ekko. Archived from the original on August 19, 2009. Retrieved August 19, 2009.
  8. http://www.ekkofilm.dk/essays.asp?table=essays&id=19
  9. "The Celebration (1998)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved July 3, 2010.
  10. Ebert, Roger (November 13, 1998). "The Celebration Review". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on June 6, 2011. Retrieved August 19, 2009.
  11. Gartner, Richard. "Cinematic Depictions of Boyhood Sexual Victimization". Gender and Psychoanalysis (1999) Volume 4, pp. 253-289.
  12. "Festen: Awards". Swedish Film Database. Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2013-06-02.
  13. "Festival de Cannes: The Celebration". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 2009-09-29.
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