Unforgettable Scenes #10: “Happy birthday…”

This week’s Unforgettable Scene is from one of my absolute favourite movies. A social drama about family secrets surfaced and confronted, Thomas Vinterberg’s Festen is a hell of a movie, centering on the sixtieth birthday of the family patriarch Helge. If you haven’t seen the film, don’t read on or watch this scene, but for those that have, let’s discuss it.

Festen is a film that has to its credit some fantastic actors. Ulrich Thomsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Henning Moritzen and Paprika Steen all bring to their parts epic performances that reminded me of The Godfather. But in particular it is Thomsen’s performance that the entire film revolves around, and the emotion and life he brings to the role of Christian is fantastic. Christian is a conflicted character, still obviously reeling from the suicide of his sister, while the helpless Helene and the embittered, drunken Michael look on, his worrisome siblings. This, one of many confrontations with Helge, is one of my absolute favourite movie scenes. It is a speech delivered so powerfully well and with such stunning (but well repressed) emotion in each word. The way Thomsen delivers the speech is truly remarkable, and the great actor’s central performance is one of many that keeps this film afloat and elevates it to the ranks among my favourites.

Those of you who’ve seen the film may wish to watch the scene again, so I’ve embedded it below. In all its power and excellence, it is an Oscar-worthy scene.


Posted on July 14, 2012, in Movies, Unforgettable Scenes and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. It’s impressive on its own but when you consider the fact that it was achieved under the Dogme95 rules its amazing.

    • Yeah, the Dogme-95 thing really adds something to it. I love the story that cast members had to hold cameras so as to adhere to the Dogme rules.

  2. I haven’t seen this film but after reading your post it’s convinced me this is a film that needs watching.

  3. Definitely an unforgettable moment in a film that is truly one-of-a-kind. I still think it’s the best Dogme film that I’ve seen so far. I heard Vinterberg’s new film is a return to form, I hope it is because It’s All About Love sucked and I only saw bits of Dear Wendy and was bored by it.

    • It is the best Dogme film, though I personally think The Idiots comes damn close and Julien Donkey-Boy is also excellent. I’ve heard really good things about Vinterberg’s newest film.

  4. Ohh…I remember watching this scene with my head in my hands and physically cringing with every sentence Christian utters and “are you kidding me” expression on my face. But as you said, it’s not just this but all of Christian’s – rants if you want to say that – are just amazing and then in the end, when their father walks in next morning for breakfast, fascinating stuff in truly amazing movie !!

    • It is a cringe-inducing scene. I think every speech scene is, and there are quite a few of them in the film. Really adds something powerful to the film.

  5. I watched this way back when, knowing it was the first film made under this new “Dogme 95 thing”. I found it to be a powerful film, but I kept getting taken out of it because I was watching for the various Dogme rules – i.e. natural lighting, where the music came from, etc. And the shakycam I found very annoying. In a way, making the film this way actually hurt its presentation for me because it was at least partially about the way the movie was made instead of getting immersed in the film itself. I feel it would have been a more powerful film if it had kept the fact that it was being made under a set of restrictions a secret.

    • The style didn’t really distract me much from the film (if anything it enhanced the realism), but I can see how for some it would be problematic.

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