Young Danish director Thomas Vinterberg is a pal of Breaking The Waves helmer Lars Von Trier, and his debut feature is as uncompromisingly bleak and absorbing as Von Trier's work.
Festen opens with a large crowd of guests converging on a hotel for the 60th birthday of its proprietor, Helge Klingenfeldt (Henning Moritzen). Chief among the throng are Helge's children, particularly quiet Christian who, mourning the recent suicide of his twin sister, plans to sabotage the festivities, with some horrific revelations about life with dad.
Vinterberg belongs to a collective of Danish film-makers known as Dogma 95, a bunch whose mission is to "purge" cinema of accepted devices such as sets and "superficial action". The purpose? To ensure that "the inner lives of the characters justifies the plot".
This may sound pretentious, but it works. Shooting on handheld cameras, Vinterberg creates a flat, drab world. This leaves you no choice but to focus on the cruelly comic family drama. As a piece of storytelling, Festen doesn't need effects to be dazzling.