I was up until 5:30am on Saturday glued to an entertainingly nasty Danish film from 1998 which exhibits a canny complicity of dramatic and representational styles.
Festen (The Celebration) is the evil twin of Babette's Feast. The moral of Thomas Vinterburg's tale seems to be that if a Danish friend kindly invites you along to a family reunion at a nice big house in the countryside, whatever you do, don't go.
And I thought Boxing Day at Heron's Farm was painful. Actually, in terms of sheer simmering resentment and overall combustive possibility I was much reminded of the plenary gatherings of los de León Martinez that it has been my unenviable privilege to attend.
This is sinister funny rather than black comedy. The camerawork is detached, in the style of The Office, (it was shot on video then blown up to 35mm film) a highly mobile method that flits between characters and scenes. Vinterburg has carefully ensured that most of the personalities in the ensemble are revealed to us as richly complex and real people, even though we only perceive them through a swirl of glimpses.
For me the most fascinating character in the mix was unzipped younger sibling Michael (played by Thomas Bo Larsen - definitely some berserker blood in there.) Arriving as a more or less unwelcome guest, by the end he has effectively inherited the throne.
Roger Ebert sniffed contrasting notes of farce and tragedy in the bouquet. The director's achievement here is in using the raw techniques of the intimate on-the-fly documentary to hold onto our credence in the realism of what is a fundamentally absurd, messed-up situation.