Childhood Stress in Film: Festen (1998)

Dysfunctional families are a favorite subject of the movies but it is rare when a film can provide a new perspective to my readers with professional or personal experience in this area.  Oscar night made me think of the Danish film (with subtitles) called Festen (Celebration) which begins as family, friends and business associates gather for a banquet to celebrate the 60th birthday of a wealthy family patriarch.  A tragedy has occurred in the family recently.  One family member believes this event was linked to past abuse and, to put it mildly, is interested in clarifying the connection.

It would limit your enjoyment to provide any more plot details but I will add that the use of a hand-held camera without artificial light makes you feel like one of the guests.  Also, after a relatively bland opening segment, the film entertains with a variety of unexpected and sometimes shocking moments that leave you wondering what could possibly happen next.

Much of the film can be viewed as a metaphor for how society responds to childhood stress.  In a typical 2000 student U.S. High School, for example, there are 300 students who have experienced sexual abuse at least once. In addition are students from families with domestic violence, substance abuse, poverty, hunger, homelessness and  language barriers.  But as my wife (elected to our school board in 2005) could tell you, the resources fall far short of the need as society looks the other way and politicians respond to those with money, power or the vote.

Festen is available on DVD.