Review: Thomas Vinterberg's 'The Celebration' Arrives on Blu-ray Courtesy of Criterion

by Sam Cohen

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday January 24, 2022

Review: Thomas Vinterberg's 'The Celebration' Arrives on Blu-ray Courtesy of Criterion

No matter what you think of the Dogme 95 movement — a filmmaking initiative created by Thomas Vinterberg and Lars Von Trier with the purpose of removing elaborate special effects and technology from the filmmaking process to return the traditional values of story, acting, and theme to the forefront — it's responsible for a level of authenticity that is rarely matched in more polished productions. Vinterberg has gone on to make handsome dramas throughout his career, with a focus on the internal dynamics of family and the social mores that dictate our existence, but it was his 1998 work "The Celebration" that both announced the arrival of a fierce talent and shook Cannes Film Festival.

"The Celebration" makes its worldwide Blu-ray debut with a lavish edition from The Criterion Collection. The 1080p presentation of the film is culled from a new 2K digital restoration sourced from a 35mm answer print. Since the film was shot using a Sony DCR-PC3 Handycam and DigiBeta tapes, it's true that what you see here is a film that reflects the strengths and limitations of the then-burgeoning digital camera technology. That being said, it's abundantly clear from the outset of the film that this new restoration is the way that the film looked upon initial release. If the restoration had been sourced from the original DigiBeta tapes, there may have been more opportunity for current digital tools to remove artifacts and soften some of the harsher edges. Thus, the result is as close as possible to what people saw in 1998 on the big screen.

Helge (Henning Moritzen) is a hugely successful businessman and patriarch celebrating his 60th birthday with a lavish party in a giant estate. Invited are his three children — Christian (Ulrich Thomsen), Michael (Thomas Bo Larsen), and Helene (Paprika Steen) — their significant others, and a slew of family friends who similarly heed to the majesty that Helge carries in his wake. But when Christian takes the first toast of the night to shine a light on the dark secrets that Helge doesn't want revealed, a night of revelations and infighting begins.

As for special features, Criterion's penchant for stacking their releases with extras shows up here in full force. There are so many supplements, in fact, that everything is spread across two Blu-rays. There's an incredible interview with Vinterberg where he talks about his inspiration for the film and how shooting digital and under Dogme 95 rules provided the necessary environment for the vulnerability of the performances to shine. The second Blu-ray even includes two early short films from Vinterberg, making this a release that does more than just highlight one key work in a filmmaker's oeuvre.

All in all, this is yet another winning release from Criterion that does wonders to the film it presents and emboldens. If you're a fan of Vinterberg's work, or want to watch something that both feels alien and unfailingly human, then picking up "The Celebration" is a must.

Other special features include:

• "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

• An essay by critic and author Michael Koresky

"The Celebration" is now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.