The Celebration, Thomas Vinterberg's painfully pleasurable movie about a family that implodes on the occasion of its patriarch's 60th birthday, proves once and for all that there's something rotten in the state of Denmark. Like Hamlet before him, Christian (Ulrich Thomsen) returns to his father's home--a country estate converted into a hotel--and steps in blood. Except, this time, it's not the father's blood, it's Christian's sister's blood. Unable to escape the memory of their father's libidinous clutches, she's committed suicide. And Christian may do the same if he's unable to force his extended family to confront the ghost in their midst. The question is, can he act? Or, like Hamlet, will he only think about acting? He acts, of course, and the result is a movie that, like Hamlet, veers between comedy and tragedy--in movie terms, between Luis Bunuel and Ingmar Bergman, with more than a touch of Chuck Jones. Shot on Hi-8 video and then transferred to film, The Celebration is a chaotic blur of jump cuts and swish pans, like a home movie taken by Wile E. Coyote on his way down the side of a cliff. And yet we're never confused about what's happening. Vinterberg, who's still in his 20s, has the very opposite of what we think of as a Scandinavian temperament: He lets it all hang out. Therefore, his approach is akin to taking a jackhammer to the icy layers of repression that have enclosed Christian's family.
Dizzying almost to the point of vertigo, The Celebration may not be everybody's cup of tea, and the whole thing would probably break down if the movie's method didn't perfectly match its message; even the grainy image seems evidence of the family's disintegration. Vinterberg co-wrote the script, which is both brilliant and off-the-cuff, but it's the actors who put flesh on the bones--Thomsen as the melancholy Dane, Thomas Bo Larsen and Paprika Steen as the surviving brother and sister, Birthe Neumann as the mother who looked the other way, and Henning Moritzen as the father who was "a little more than kin, and less than kind." Thoroughly trashing the place, The Celebration is a party to remember.