It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Thomas Vinterberg's "The Celebration" mixes farce and tragedy so completely that it challenges us to respond at all. There are moments when a small, choked laugh begins in the audience and is then instantly stifled, as we realize a scene is not intended to be funny. Or is it? Imagine Eugene O'Neill and Woody Allen collaborating on a screenplay about a family reunion. Now let Luis Bunuel direct it.
The story involves a 60th birthday party at which all of a family's corrupt and painful secrets are revealed at last. To the family's country inn in Denmark come the surviving children of Helge (Henning Moritzen) and his wife, Elsa (Birthe Neuman). We meet the eldest son, Christian (Ulrich Thomsen); his younger brother Michael (Thomas Bo Larsen), and their sister Helene (Paprika Steen). Christian's twin sister has recently committed suicide. Also gathering around the table for the patriarch's birthday are assorted spouses, relations and friends.
The film opens with a family in turmoil. The drunk and furious Michael careens his car down a country road while blaming his wife for everything. He comes across Christian, walking, and stops to give him a lift (throwing out his wife and children, who must walk the rest of the way). In their room, Michael starts berating his wife again (she has not packed some of his clothing) before they have rough sex; we assume this vaudeville is the centerpiece of their marriage.
At the birthday banquet, Christian raps his spoon against a glass and rises to calmly accuse his father of having raped his children. The gathering tries to ignore these remarks; Helene says they are not true. In the kitchen, the drunken chef gleefully observes that he has been waiting for this day for a long time, and dispatches his waitresses to steal everyone's car keys from their rooms, so they won't be able to escape. Christian rises again and accuses his father of essentially murdering the sister who killed herself.