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Humble guests at the celebration: an interview with Thomas Vinterberg and Ulrich Thomsen.


Of the fifteen films I saw in the Toronto festival I have chosen to write on three of the four I most loved and admired. The fourth, Flowers of Shanghai, the latest masterpiece of Hou Hsiao-Hsien, is too complex and demanding to be discussed responsibly after only one viewing (and when can we expect a second opportunity?. I am convinced that Hou is one of cinema's major figures, comparable to, for example, Mizoguchi, Ophuls or Renoir, but not one of his many films is currently available in North America).

While considering what to say about The Celebration, The Hole and The Apple, and working in the context of an issue whose main theme is the New Wave and its legacy, I was greatly struck by an apparent common debt (the only thing, apart from excellence, that the three films share): would any of them have been quite what they are if the New Wave had not existed? Thomas Vinterberg's stunning film, produced within (just about!) the guidelines of Dogma 95 (1), offers particularly interesting parallels with the New Wave's genesis, a striking case of history repeating itself. In essentials, Dogma 95 is less important for its actual demands (which, as Vinterberg agrees, could easily become repressive if adhered to literally) than for its assault upon the conventions of contemporary mainstream cinema and its corresponding demand for a new freedom. Does this not instantly evoke both the tone and the specific focus of the manifestos, the `agitprop', of the critics of Cahiers du Cinema in the late 50s who subsequently became known worldwide as Truffaut, Chabrol, Godard, Rivette... -- their demands as critics made flesh in the early films, on the cusp of the 50s/60s? We must hope that The Celebration represents the beginning of a Danish New Wave, its 400 Coups, its A Bout de Souffle. It is quite unlike either, but it has grown out of a similar impulse to rebel against the dominant tendencies of the cinematic Establishment. Appropriately, the theme of the film is liberation, and the notion of liberation is enacted throughout in its style, its pervasive sense of freshness, of excitement, of challenge. It must be added, however, that the situation today is very much worse, the enemies of liberation far more powerful. In a world in which global corporate capitalism, in all its quasi-totalitarian brutality, controls, not just cinema, but every other aspect of our lives, any celebration must be tentative and muted.

We live in an age in which the concept of `family values' is at last in question, together (inevitably) with the concept of `family' itself. It seems to me no longer a `given' that: (a) the family should necessarily be the nucleus of social organization; (b) children should be raised by their biological parents; and (c) the most fulfilling form of relationship is the family's basis and mainstay, the (nominally) monogamous heterosexual couple. The proposition that our traditional model, the patriarchal nuclear family, has been by now thoroughly discredited (even as it still drags doggedly on, from habit or inertia) seems to me no longer disputable. The vast and difficult question of our culture is, What is to replace it? Hopefully not another `model', misperceived as `natural' when it is merely `normal'. But it remains to be seen what disparate forms of social organization are workable and practical and capable of coexisting. Numerous recent films (and indeed films from the past -- The Reckless Moment springs to mind) have raised this question implicitly, but none more eloquently or passionately or urgently than Thomas Vinterberg's Festen (The Celebration). None (and The Celebration must be included in this) has so far attempted more than a very tentative answer. What, for example, exactly are the implications of the two sisters walking off together at the end of The Daytrippers?

It is obvious that the power structures that pervade and define our culture have their origin within the structures of the patriarchal family; it follows that there can be no effective or lasting transformation of our culture's social/political structures that is not preceded or accompanied by the transformation of the family. Yet for anyone seriously committed to the ideal of a civilization freed from the principle of domination, the notion of `family' (any form of family) presents problems that must appear daunting to the point of insuperable. It is by no means merely a matter of tackling the more obvious forms of child abuse -- sexual, physical -- though even those will remain difficult to eliminate while society continues to believe in the family's right to privacy and the child's non-right to report instances of abuse. If a man strikes me in the street I can instantly summon a policeman and have him prosecuted; if a father strikes his child within the `privacy' of the home, the child (although vastly more vulnerable than myself) has no such recourse, since even were the option legally available the child would not be aware that it exists. There is also psychological abuse, far harder to prove or legislate against, often taking extremely subtle, almost subliminal, forms (isn't lying to children a form of abuse?), `love' being the most effective cover. But beyond the question of abuse, there is the problem of indoctrination. How could one legislate against the common -- perhaps ubiquitous -- tendency of parents to consciously or unconsciously indoctrinate their children with their own set of values, moulding them in their image -- as opposed to simply making those values available, `presenting' them in the Brechtian sense, as an option, open to criticism or rejection, with alternative sets of values available? How, indeed, does one legislate against such indoctrination occurring in schools, as of course it does pervasively and continuously, our education system being, like the media, another tool of capitalism dedicated to the preservation of the hegemony? Ultimately, all one can do is make available to children the widest possible range of experiences, ideas and values, always of course taking into account their age, their capacity for understanding, response and thought. In such a process interaction with their peers will be of the utmost importance, far beyond any `teaching' from adults. It is impossible that such an ideal could be achieved within the biological family as we know it, with its inherent tendencies to possessiveness (`my children') and domination (`this is the way to behave, these are the things to think, these are the values to live by...') endlessly reproduced by the repressions, frustrations and aggressions that inevitably characterize the `nuclear' model.

The director and lead actor of The Celebration still (on the evidence of the interview) believe that the continuation of the family, more or less in the form in which we know it but appropriately liberalized, is inevitable, and of course they are right for the foreseeable future. But I am more interested in the unforeseeable future, the future I shall not live to see (and which may never come into being since `advanced' patriarchal capitalism appears to be singlemindedly dedicated to the destruction of life on the planet). It is clearly impossible for many reasons (practical, economic, psychological...) for an existing family abruptly to disband itself -- even the question of the ways in which accommodation is organized under patriarchal capitalism would be a major impediment. But it should be possible for us to accept (however reluctantly and provisionally) what we have, making the most of a very bad job, yet simultaneously working and thinking toward a very different future. I also feel that their magnificent film is more radical, more drastic, more urgent in its implications than they consciously realize. It seems legitimate (perhaps in excess of their intentions) to read it symbolically: the overthrow of patriarchy, permitting the tentative formation of forms of relating freed from domination. Its tentative nature is not a weakness: if patriarchy were officially overthrown tomorrow, it would still take several generations for the insidiously pervasive habits of domination to wear themselves out and for alternatives to be firmly established on deeper levels than those of conscious good intentions.

The Interview

I have generally been wary of interviews because I always feel so insignificant in confronting filmmakers I admire (what right have I to take up their time?). In this instance I was put at my ease instantly: Thomas Vinterberg, twentynine but he could easily pass for twenty-two, walked in with his lead actor Ulrich Thomsen, a broad smile on his face: `Hi, I'm Thomas, this is Ulrich'. I knew at once that I had nothing to worry about: I could say anything, and he wouldn't react with `End of interview,' and walk out. So we had a relaxed but quite probing conversation, in circumstances that in general seem doomed to selfconsciousness. Thomas's English is near flawless; I tidied up one or two phrases in the interest of clarity, I hope without distorting the sense. The one passage I have omitted concerns his reaction to my revelation that Gbatokai Dakinah, despite the importance of his role in the film, is nowhere mentioned (either as actor or character) in either the press release or the festival catalogue. Although I can offer no other explanation for this (actors with less prominent roles are identified), I am reluctant to believe that the omission was racially motivated (Thomas used the word `fascist') in a country that prides itself on its multiculturalism.

Having seen the film a second time since the interview, I have one regret. My tribute to Christian's heroism is altogether too simple, and requires modification. That it is presented, unambiguously, as admirable seems to me beyond dispute, its nature defined by the scene near the end of the film, at the point at which the reality of the abuse has been thoroughly confirmed, where Christian's younger brother Michael violently beats their father. Michael's action, though understandable, is not heroic in the least: it is motivated merely by the impotent rage of a man who realizes that he has been cheated, and misled into taking the wrong side. Vinterberg's explicit rejection of physical violence (in the interview) is thoroughly vindicated within the film. But the film shows that Christian's tenacity is sustained by the support of the servants, without which he would have made his first devastating denunciation (quite calmly, almost as an aside, as part of a formal toast to his father), and left, permitting the family and guests to treat it as some kind of sick joke. This detracts little from the heroism, beyond showing that even a hero needs support. But what it points to is of great significance in the film, and makes sense of both Christian's proposal to the servant Pia and the acceptance of Gbatokai as a member of the new, reconstructed, extended family of the film's conclusion: the demolition of bourgeois patriarchy facilitates the collapse of class and race divisions, preparing the way for the formation, at least in embryo, of a society not built on the domination principle. It is also fitting that the ultimate, and clinching, revelations come not from a man but from a collusion of the women whom patriarchy has previously kept divided: it is Pia the servant who retrieves Linda's suicide letter from the tube in which Helene has secreted it in her misguided attempt at preserving family unity, and it is Helene who then reads it aloud to the assembled guests.

Robin Wood: I wondered if we could begin by discussing Dogma 95? You talked of this [in the press release] as being a lot of fun, and I wonder whether it's intended more as provocation and protest against the current state of film, in which case I think it's immensely valuable, rather than as some rigid artistic testament. How strict is it supposed to be?

Thomas Vinterberg: I think the Dogma is in the area between a very solemn thing and deep irony...

RW: Yes, that's what I figured.

TV: ...and to be more specific than that is difficult. The whole idea of it was actually to us when we did it very obvious, because there's an artistic satisfaction to work within a frame, which I think is obvious, and to work against obstacles always creates...makes something grow, so if you see it logically, from an artistic point of view it is the most liberating thing you can do, to make such a tiny frame. We also wanted to break with the convention of filmmaking, first of all with the convention within our own filmmaking -- force ourselves to try something new, due to the fact that there should be some sort of risk connected to making art. So from that aspect it's very solemn, and not rigid. On the other hand it is a game, as it's defined in the manifesto, which is a bit arrogant, of course very ironic also. It creates the atmosphere of playing. I think that was the atmosphere that spread out through the shooting and especially also when you did the script and the editing, a game where you're not allowed to put nondiegetic music, so if you're tempted to play with it, then you're tempted to make everybody sing. That's the `play' kind of atmosphere, if you understand.

RW: I loved your terrible confessions (2), they're very funny.

TV: Yes, yes, I'm glad you liked them.

RW: Thinking specifically of your own film, Festen. You say that Dogma 95 signatories are not supposed to make genre films, but isn't the `family drama' a genre of very long standing?

TV: Uhmmm... I'm afraid you're right. We failed on that one. We tried not to be enclosed by the genre, and we tried to create a story without thinking about it... A genre film meant to us more like a film that is distant from our life, like science fiction.

RW: I would see The Celebration as enormously expanding that genre, pushing its boundaries very, very far...

TV: Oh, I'm glad. So we brought something to it.

RW: Another condition seems to be that no props are to be brought into the location. But you bring the actors in -- they don't belong there, they don't live there. If you can bring the actors in, why can't you bring in props?

TV: (to Ulrich Thomsen): Do you consider yourself as a prop?


Ulrich Thomsen: I'm very offended.

RW: No, no, I wasn't thinking of you at all as a prop...

UT (goodhumouredly): I think you did.

RW: No, no, I didn't mean that actors were props, not at all. All I meant was that the principle seems to be that everything must be real within that location, and the actors are still being brought in, they're not real, not real people...

UT: You're touching a soft spot.

TV: We're not doing a documentary...

RW: Exactly...

TV: So, it's limited how close you can come to truth -- as it says in the manifesto we're trying to undress the film. But still, we have taste. We did a script, we made a selection of actors, our fantasy created the lines and stuff like that, so it still is fiction and a part of that is of course the actors. But I think the actors, especially if they're good, are brought up to bring us closer to the truth, and to express... to be a medium... for true stories.

RW: Yes, but this `truth' is necessarily the construct of the filmmakers.

TV: I didn't get that one, I'm sorry...

RW: The truth that you're talking about, the truth that emerges from the film, has been constructed by the filmmakers...

TV: Exactly. I think `truth' is a very big word, and a bit empty. But I think the idea of it was to avoid the layers that the auteur can make between what's happening on the stage or on the screen, and the audience. To take away the makeup and register what is happening among these people. But of course the situation is invented, it's not a documentary. So it is very difficult, again, to define what kind of truth this is. And I can't bring you closer.

UT: It's a truth within the fiction.

RW: The truth that emerges out of the fiction, which is not necessarily absolute truth.

TV: It can not be. But also, when you read the manifesto, it says that we are not allowed to have any taste, and I guess the first choice you do, the first selection of an actor for instance, you have a taste, you can't avoid it, it's made out of rubber. But we have treated it as intentions, and visions, so that it has been at the back of our heads all through the shooting. We talked about that all the time, and I tried to avoid being too much involved in what was happening, and I didn't succeed. I was interrupting all the time.

RW: Yes, I'm afraid I can't help regarding you as an `artist' and The Celebration as a `work'.

TV: And so far... not that I have not experienced anything like that in making films, yet this is the most personal film I have made. But I don't think that's wrong...

RW: No, I don't either...

TV: What we're talking about is being undressed, and to avoid `taste' as a superficial thing, if you understand. Putting your feelings on the screen is not forbidden by the document. Actually it's trying to get closer to your feelings. And I'm a part of it too, as the cameraman is a part of it, that's why the tripod is not allowed.

RW: And the actors.

TV: Of course, the actors.

RW: My own position -- and this is something I've been saying for years -- is that when ideas and beliefs harden into dogma, that's to say an unbreakable set of rules, they immediately become oppressive, and that freedom is crucial. It's good to have a set of rules, but you should be able to break the rules, it's important to be able to break the rules.

TV: In this case we felt the exact opposite way. The conventions were there...

UT: There were rules there from the beginning.

TV: Yes, the rules at the beginning were, if you do a film, you put lights on, and when you do a film you put strings on, and makeup, and that's what the rules were, and we had to forbid them. And maybe that's oppressive but it felt very liberating, immediately.

RW: I'm sure, yes, and I absolutely agree. It's a wonderful thing to be happening, especially in view of the complete hopelessness at present of contemporary Hollywood, with all its special effects. There are no human beings in Hollywood films any more.

TV: Yes, I think if we should compare it to Hollywood, the most important thing, one of the important things, about Dogma is that it leaves room for the big films, it makes a contrast, and I guess as long as a film is a consequent [consistent? -- ed.] film, as long as it is only special effects or personal films, it helps to create a much better artistic atmosphere. It's all the mediocrity that we're trying to avoid.

RW: I just thought about this when I was reading the press release, which says that in the script the dead sister was to haunt the party as a ghost, and you couldn't do this because of the rules. I think it would have been wonderful.

TW: Yes, I'm very sad that we didn't succeed. (3)

RW: But that's an example of dogma becoming oppressive.

TW: It is one example, and I think it's the best example, but there's a couple more. And that was oppression. We really needed the strings there to create the metaphysics of the story, and Dogma is limiting, it's very difficult with Dogma to create higher layers of understanding. You see what you see.

RW: Yes. What I'm saying is really, that it's wonderful to make a set of rules in opposition to the standard rules that exist, but then later on you should be able to go ahead and break your own set of rules.

TW: Yes. I think that doing another Dogma film right now would be suicidal, because the fine thing about Dogma is to create renewal, and to do another Dogma film right after would be to create another convention, which would be very oppressive. I would see it as a monitor that I can return to.

RW: As long as you don't intend to go out and make Titanic 2 or something...

TW: I'm tempted. Because it would be very much in contrary to the Dogma thing.


RW: Yes, but you don't have to go that far.

TW: No, I don't think I'd be able to. Titanic with no lighting, no... I'd sink the ship for real.

RW: We'll pass on to the film, which, as you've gathered, I love. I found it both liberating and exhilarating.

TW: Thank you.

RW: I'm afraid this is rather a long preamble I've got here... I see it as the culmination of a longstanding tradition of films that interrogate the traditional family, which goes right back to the beginnings of cinema, and even seemingly conservative films from the past that were also to some degree honest -- I think for example of Meet Me in St. Louis -- couldn't help emphasizing the tensions and repressions inherent in family life. I think all this has come to a head in the last decade, especially in recent American Independent films, for example The House of Yes, and most intelligently in The Daytrippers, which is wonderful in relation to your film, by the way...

TV: I must see that.

RW: Now The Celebration seems to push everything to the point of total disintegration, hence it seems the ultimate step in this process, the end of the patriarchal family. And the big question one is left asking is, What will replace it? I don't know if you want to deal with this or not... A different model of family? No families at all? Communal living?

UT: I think families will still be there, I think they should be. I think it is important, if there are ghosts lying around, to grab them, deal with them.

RW: But doesn't every family have ghosts? And isn't that an argument against families?

TV: I think the family is an institution that you cannot avoid, biologically or culturally. It is there to be there. You can try to create the illusion that `I've left my family', but it will always be there, and the ghosts will always be there. That's the cynicism of it. And I think, when you ask What is there after?, there's only the laugh, the small relief. You have to watch the cynicism of it, and say That's how it is, how it's always been, how it's going to be. And perhaps, watching such a film, you can recognize something, be aware of it, but no further than that. To argue against family is not necessary, because it's not possible. It will only be an argument, it will never come to real life.

RW: I'm not so sure...

TV: You know, I think people have tried, especially young sons and daughters raging against their fathers and mothers, have tried to break out of their families, but at the end of the day, it's still the family, and at the end of the day it is the great value also of this film that the family does everything they have in their hands to keep this structure, even though they have to oppress a poor son who has been abused by the father. It's a strength -- you also have to watch it that way. I know that's very cynical to say, but I think for me that's how it is, and that's why, if you watch this film, something awful happens all the time and the structure keeps on going: They say `Let's have our coffee', and everything is back. And Christian tries to destroy it again, and it gets into shape again. In the end, the father dies...

RW: More precisely, he's eliminated...

TV: Eliminated, yes. And the family comes into shape.

RW: But it's a different family.

TV: It is a different family.

RW: It's become a group of people who see each other as equals and don't seem to want to dominate each other.

TV: That's right. And of course I think in many cases you have to clean out the skeletons, to have a family which does not oppress you.

UT: That is also in relation to... It doesn't have to be two sons, it could be with your own wife for instance, you have to have understanding, an honest understanding: this is how I am, this is how you are. It's a couple, or five family members, but it doesn't make one unit, but individuals fighting but staying together. You can't avoid that.

RW: Eventually what it comes back to is the idea of the couple and whether people should be living as couples, rather than as groups.

UT: To me they should live as couples, of course they should, because we are...what's the word?...monogamous, I think...

RW: Are we? I'm not.

(Laughter, slightly uneasy).

UT: You live amongst people, a choice of people, whether you want to live with a person or not you are bound to talk to somebody eventually, you are not a stranger away from the world, so you have to have an understanding, do you know what I'm saying?

RW: Certainly, but you can have an understanding with six people. Why just one?

TV: Even though I'm very young, I've tried both. I was raised in a commune, I lived in a commune for twelve years. And now I live married, like bourgeoisie, very much. And I think, in both places, whether you're six persons or two persons, it's very important to set the other parts free and it's very important to be generous to each other, which is not a fact with this family, and very important not to violate the borders of the persons that you live with. And that's what it's about, this film.

RW: Absolutely.

TV: Helge, the father, violated the borders of his kids, that's not allowed. Then you can't live. So it is, but I think you've raised very interesting questions, and I think it's very difficult to answer them...

RW: I think so too.

TV: It is very difficult. And I think a lot of family structure comes out of anxiety, anxiety to be left alone, anxiety to live in a different way, and that's not a good foundation for families, and also marriages. Many marriages develop out of comfort and anxiety. And that's also I hope somewhere in this film. There's a lot of anxiety, the sister especially is very frightened, and the mother. Hopefully they're cleansed, just a little bit, and more relaxed.

RW: Yes -- more relaxed and more liberated, less likely to want to dominate others. Which is the key, I think.

TV: And also the main character, Christian, is a very closed character in the beginning, and his whole sexuality is completely imploded into his mind, turned into aggression. And I guess that is resolved at the end -- it's a bit Hollywoodish, that, almost marrying the waitress, but all the fear and all the aggression is replaced by some kind of love.

RW: It may be Hollywood but I think it's beautiful. But then I love Hollywood...

TV: I do too...

RW: Not contemporary Hollywood, but the Hollywood of the past.

TV: That's the specific point: Hollywood is also very true, and very generous.

RW: I'm glad you started talking about Christian, because the next thing I wanted to ask... It's not really a question, more a statement, which you might like to throw about. I've only seen the film once, by the way. I want to see it again tomorrow, if I can get in...

TV: If we can help you, just tell us.

RW: I'd love you to help me. [They did!]. But about Christian. What I found so inspirational in the film is that Christian becomes one of the great heroic figures of modern cinema. I think Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger pale into insignificance in comparison to what Christian does.

UT (laughing): Well, I hope you put that on paper. It's a funny comparison I must say. But yes, he is a hero.

RW: He's so strong.

UT: What he does is more courageous I think. Not that I have any experience of the situation Christian is in. But I think it must be a very big step to take, after thirty years, to finally speak up for himself, with all the pressure that's built up. It's a very dramatic speech. In a form like that, it's either do or die. With his father listening nothing can ever be the same. And they know he will fail. In the basement, the servants have a meeting, to force him on. Yes, that's a heroic thing.

RW: And inspiring -- truly inspiring. Anyone who was in a similar, or even a parallel, situation who sees the film might feel empowered to go out and do the same thing.

UT: I would hope so.

TV: I had a phone call the other day which frightened me, from I think a quite dangerous person, about thirty years old, on my answering machine. He bragged that he knocked down his father the day before his father's birthday: I did the same thing that was in your film...' Which was not what we meant. But he did it before he saw the film. I don't think it's important because that's a sick man talking, and he's sick anyway.

RW: You're not responsible for the actions of people in that condition.

TV: That is what I thought, and that is why I didn't call him back.

RW: It's like Hitchcock's response when he was told that after seeing Psycho a young man went out and committed his third murder. He asked what films he had seen before he committed the first two.

TV: Yes, that's a very good comment.

RW: I want to ask about the black character. I've been unable to find the name of either the actor or the character in either the press release or the festival catalogue. The character has the same name as the actor...

TV: He's my best friend. I'll write it down for you...

[Gbatokai Dakinah].

RW: Then I can make sure he gets acknowledged in CineAction anyway. It seems to me a key role in the film -- he's the one outsider, and an absolutely necessary character because he can stand outside all of the tumult that's going on, outside the communal insanity of the family. And he keeps calm under pressure, even when he's being openly insulted. Do you want to talk about his role in the film?

TV: I have one maybe very disappointing, but very good, reason for him to be in the film, and that is that he lives in New York and he's my very best friend. And I had only one way of bringing him back to Denmark, which was giving him a part in this film. And that is the reason and I must be frank.

RW: I think that's wonderful.

TV: I think what then happened when he came into this film was of course what you said, something from outside, something from another planet, comes into this family, and it is a sort of parallel to Christian. Something new is always something frightening to such an enclosed family structure, and it's very visible to put him inside this and see him being rejected by them, humiliated by this family. And also I think it makes us watch the family from outside. And it creates for me a very specific and very simple understanding of the fascism of our country, the fascism of Europe these days.

RW: And Canada. And America.

TV: And America and all over. I don't have a finger here to point, and I don't want to. I'm not trying to simplify. But it is to me a very good picture of the fascism which is in the family and which is now spreading out all over society. Also I think it has created an understanding between Christian's brother Michael and Gbatokai. That was one of the most visible conflicts of the film, they were actually almost fighting, but at the end cleaning out the father brings them together. They sit next to each other at the table, and to me that's another marriage, parallel to Christian and the waitress.

RW: Given the character's importance in the film, and your personal feelings for the actor, it's a very nice auteur touch that you drive him to the party. [Vinterberg has a very brief cameo as the taxi driver].

TV (acknowledging with laughter another `transgression' against the Dogma credo): Oh yeah, yeah, all right... And I know I wasn't much good as a taxi driver. But he was my friend and I brought him home. And mainly I was in the cab because I was not allowed to be credited, and that was my way of teasing...

RW: I'm about out of questions. I was going to ask if you've seen the other film that I loved in the festival, which was the Tsai Ming-Liang, The Hole.

TV: We arrived yesterday night. We're still jet-lagged.

RW: I found it so interesting that the two films in this festival that I really loved are absolutely diametrical opposites: the most stylized film, as against the most direct, in-your-face film.

TV: It's strange because this whole film is mainly driven by aggressions. It's such a violent atmosphere. And I think there's not many people talking about that: the oppression within a family. I guess there's a lot of oppression all over, oppression of ourselves, and then at night we dream that we beat up people instead. And when I watch the set, shooting this film, and I see how easy it is to put a light to the gasoline, everybody, everything flames up and everybody's singing this racist song, and the black guy and Michael are almost fighting and just screaming, and... I start to worry, because there is a lot of aggression within normal people today, and I start to worry Where does that come from? How does it come out? It's not only about family oppression. There is a lot of self-oppression as well.

RW: Perhaps the self-oppression is a product of oppression within the family?

TV: I guess you're right. It was the scenes that went on like... [Sound of catching fire, or taking off].

RW: Because families have traditionally been about ownership: `my wife', just like `my land, my car, my children'.

TV: I think you're right. I think that's why people faint in Denmark. Because they sit in their seats, and the aggression rises. And fortunately they have a laugh. But I've seen it in the cinemas, people are ready to kill this father. Scary. And yet satisfying.


RW: Is there anything else you would like to say?

TV: Yes. This was a wonderful interview. For the first time we elaborated a conversation, it's very nice. I must thank you for that.

RW: Well, I certainly thank you for being so frank, and open, and giving so much. And not getting angry with me when I say terrible things about Dogma.

TV: It's very rare to have a chance...


RW: I'm really looking forward to whatever you two do next. Plans?

UT: Not together.

RW: I hope you'll do something together again, because you're a marvellous team. In fact, everybody in The Celebration seems to work so well, it's such an ensemble film...

UT: Everybody knows each other there.

TV: There are two different kinds of film to make. Sometimes you do a film where you have the feeling that you have to create everything from the beginning, every day of shooting, and you come home and you think, and the film eats you. And there's the other kind of film where you come early in the morning, and when you go home in the evening you feel even better. And it's because there's something in the story that is more important than us. We're just the humble guests of this very family and scenery. And that's very satisfying of course, and that's why I think we had a lot of laughs and a very good time doing this very evil story. It was a fantastic, amazing summer, and there was a lot of very good mood.

RW: It may be an evil story, but it's also a marvellously liberating one, in the way it's handled. It didn't have to be...

[Enter press agent: we had gone way over our allotted time...]

(1) . Dogma 95 is a manifesto produced by a film collective founded in Copenhagen `to counter certain tendencies in film today'. Most relevant here is the `Vow of Chastity', initially taken by Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg and reproduced here from Odeon Films' press release:

I swear to submit to the following set of rules drawn up and confirmed by Dogma 95:

1. Shooting must be done on location. Props and sets must not be brought in. (If a particular prop is necessary to the story, a location must be chosen where this prop is to be found).

2. The sound must never be produced apart from the images or vice versa. (Music must not be used unless it occurs where the scene is being shot).

3. The camera must be hand-held. Any movement or immobility attainable in the hand is permitted. (The film must not take place where the camera is standing; shooting must take place where the film takes place).

4. The film must be in colour. Special lighting is not acceptable. (If there is too little light for exposure, the scene must be cut or a single lamp be attached to the camera).

5. Optical work and filters are forbidden.

6. The film must not contain superficial action. (Murders, weapons, etc., must not occur).

7. Temporal and geographical alienation are forbidden. (That is to say that the film takes place here and now).

8. Genre movies are not acceptable.

9. The film format must be Academy 35mm.

10. The director must not be credited.

(2) . Thomas's `Confession' of `transgressions' is also quoted here from the press release:

* I confess to having made one take with a black drape covering a window. This is not only the addition of a property, but must also be regarded as a kind of lighting arrangement.

* I confess to having knowledge of a pay rise that served as cover for the purchase of Thomas Bo Larsen's suit for use in the film.

* Similarly, I confess to having knowledge of purchases by Trine Dyrholm and Therese Glahn of the same nature.

* I confess to having set in train the construction of a non-existent hotel reception desk for use in The Celebration. It should be noted that the structure consisted solely of components already present at the location.

* I confess that Christian's mobile or cellular telephone was not his own. But it was present at the location.

* I confess that in one take the camera was attached to a microphone boom and thus only partially hand-held.

I hereby declare that the rest of The Celebration was produced in accordance with The Vow of Chastity.

Pleading for absolution, I remain,

Thomas Vinterberg.

(3) . Two editorial comments:

(a) Vinterberg finds a way over this problem without transgressing the laws of Dogma 95: Helene's discovery of Linda's letter is intercut with shots of Pia sliding underwater in the bath, visually reproducing the suicide. (b) However, he does transgress near the end of the film: we are shown Christian's hallucinations of his dead sister when he is knocked almost unconscious. There seems no logical difference in principle between showing the hallucinations and showing Linda-as-ghost.
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Author:Wood, Robert Paul
Date:Jan 1, 1999
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