Fes­ten Cy­ril Teste

Art Press - - ODÉON-THÉÂTRE DE L’EUROPE - Trans­la­tion, L-S Tor­goff

Cy­ril Teste adap­ted the Thomas Vin­ter­berg mo­vie Fes­ten for the stage in a com­bi­ned film/live per­for­mance ver­sion.

“So­me­thing is rot­ten in the state of Den­mark.” That was true in Sha­kes­peare’s time, in the sha­dow of El­si­nore castle, and it was still true in 1998 in the ho­tel where Fes­ten ( tit­led The Ce­le­bra­tion in En­glish) takes place. The film by Thomas Vin­ter­berg re­counts the noi­rish turn ta­ken by a hy­po­cri­ti­cal fa­mi­ly par­ty in ce­le­bra­tion of the six­tieth bir­th­day of its pa­triarch, Helge. At the be­gin­ning of the meal, one of his sons, Ch­ris­tian, pro­poses a toast. He has pre­pa­red two speeches, one on yel­low paper and the other on green paper. Helge chooses, Ch­ris­tian reads. He re­veals a fa­mi­ly se­cret that shat­ters the fa­ther’s bland image, com­pro­mises the mo­ther and un­bur­dens Ch­ris­tian. Alone fa­cing the guests—we don’t know if they are hyp­no­ti­zed, com­plai­sant or just wai­ting to see what hap­pens next—Ch­ris­tian has to res­tart his sto­ry se­ve­ral times to shat­ter the pre­ca­rious rei­ning equi­li­brium. Pa­triar­chy, in­cest, ra­cism and class vio­lence are de­noun­ced one af­ter ano­ther in a portrait of a mo­ral­ly adrift so­cie­ty. “Vin­ter­berg made a kind of ma­ni­fes­to against the rise of na­tio­na­lism in Den­mark, which be­gan in the 1990s be­fore sprea­ding throu­ghout Eu­rope,” Teste ex­plains. It is be­cause the evil pro­li­fe­ra­ted beyond Den­mark, and be­cause he wan­ted to ad­dress the is­sue of the fa­mi­ly, that Teste re­vi­si­ted this dra­ma, ba­sing him­self on a stage adap­ta­tion writ­ten by Vin­ter­berg and Mo­gens Ru­kov in 2003. “No­bo­dy talks about the rise of na­tio­na­lism in Den­mark any­more. Now it’s consi­de­red nor­mal—we’ve ac­cep­ted a des­pi­cable vi­sion of so­cie­ty.” FROM DOGME TO FIL­MED PER­FOR­MANCE This thea­ter ver­sion of Fes­ten, pre­mie­red in 2017 at Bon­lieu - Scène Na­tio­nale d’An­ne­cy, is as much a conti­nua­tion of Vin­ter­berg’s wrest­ling with po­li­ti­cal and his­to­ri­cal is­sues as of his aes­the­tic ex­pe­riment. Teste wan­ted to shock people as po­wer­ful­ly as he was when he first saw the film, one of the first to fol­low the stric­tures laid down in Dogme 95. That ma­ni­fes­to, writ­ten by Vin­ter­berg and Lars Von Trier, cal­led for more na­tu­ra­lis­tic films, with no spe­cial ef­fects or other ar­ti­fices, shot with hand-held ca­me­ras in nor­mal set­tings and lea­ving room for im­pro­vi­sa­tion. By ap­plying these rules Fes­ten looks like a home mo­vie made with a cam­cor­der, es­pe­cial­ly in the din­ner scenes, the epicenter of the film’s ac­cu­sa­to­ry speeches and strings of in­sults. The ca­me­ra seems to bear raw wit­ness to group iner­tia.

Teste has rein­ven­ted this work as a film/per­for­mance, a prac­tice de­ve­lo­ped du­ring his work as a mem­ber of the MxM and pre­vious­ly seen in his last thea­ter work, No­bo­dy. In brin­ging a ca­me­ra ons­tage, he crosses thea­ter and film to pro­duce as ma­ny points of view as pos­sible of the uns­poo­ling ac­tion. Whe­reas clas­si­cal thea­ter of­fers au­dience mem­bers both the choice of wat­ching what they want to watch and the pos­si­bi­li­ty of an ove­rall vi­sion, vi­deo su­per­im­poses a vi­sion that can fo­cus on cer­tain de­tails or broa­den the space of ac­tion by - loo­king off­stage or backs­tage. What this me­thod re­tains from the Dogme 95 prin­ciples is main­ly the sim­pli­ci­ty of the whole se­tup. One Stea­di­cam-moun­ted ca­me­ra fol­lows the ac­tors ons­tage, cap­tu­ring and re­trans­mit­ting images in real time, a tech­ni­cal chal­lenge that so­me­times turns out to be much more com­pli­ca­ted than it might seem. Far from being a gra­tui­tous uti­li­za­tion of new tech­no­lo­gies, film per­for­mance conveys mea­ning. The thea­tri­cal di­men­sion ma­te­ria­lizes the claus­tro­pho­bic four walls en­clo­sing the cha­rac­ters and for­cing a plot re­so­lu­tion, while the film di­men­sion al­lows the au­dience to leave the di­ning room to ex­plore be­drooms, of­fices and kit­chens for one-onone conver­sa­tions and the tel­ling of se­crets. Above all, it per­mits a clash of dis­courses. “In the be­gin­ning, the fa­ther is the star of his own mo­vie, a per­fect film about his six­tieth bir­th­day. When his se­cret is re­vea­led, his son shat­ters that fic­tion and takes over the stage. Thus we go back and forth bet­ween stage and film, with the two me­dia ne­ver en­te­ring in­to a ri­val­ry with one ano­ther,” Teste says. One of the roles played by the ca­me­ra is to re­veal the va­rious cha­rac­ters’ point of view. “The fil­mic di­men­sion of the play gives a lot of em­pha­sis to long takes and calm ob­ser­va­tion. But each cha­rac­ter tries to take over the film nar­ra­tive, to ap­pro­priate the nar­ra­tive by means of images.” HAMLET OR NOT HAMLET While this pro­duc­tion is ob­vious­ly hea­vi­ly in­deb­ted to Vin­ter­berg, Sha­kes­peare ho­vers not far be­hind. Ch­ris­tian, the young pro­ta­go­nist who ex­poses the hid­den truth about the all­po­wer­ful head of the fa­mi­ly, re­sembles Hamlet. “Both men are haun­ted by a ghost they can’t get free of,” Teste re­marks, re­cal­ling that Ch­ris­tian re­pea­ted­ly sees his dead sis­ter. Both are figh­ting against an un­just or­der that op­poses their va­lues, as ob­vious­ly sym­bo­li­zed by the guests’ pre­di­lec­tion for par­tying the day af­ter a bu­rial. “The other ma­jor point in com­mon is the way the two pro­ta­go­nists use thea­ter to bring out the truth,” Teste conti­nues, ex­plai­ning, “In Sha­kes­peare, Hamlet says that thea­ter will be a trap by which he will ‘catch the conscience of the king.’ Ch­ris­tian uses the thea­ter consti­tu­ted by the din­ner to smash his fa­ther’s nar­ra­tive.” But contra­ry to Hamlet, Ch­ris­tian sur­vives this re­ve­la­tion, sur­pri­sin­gly consi­de­ring the dra­ma­tic ten­sion mel­ding vio­lence, mad­ness and in­dif­fe­rence. Teste even talks about his work’s hap­py en­ding: “We see the end of a world and not the end of the world. But twen­ty years af­ter the mo­vie, we’ve be­come chil­dren of this world. We need to change it, but not with the idea of a clean slate. The point is to watch for the si­gns, ho­we­ver weak, of po­si­tive change.” Conse­quent­ly, the din­ner table must not be seen on­ly as a site of vio­lence and pre­tence. It is al­so the core around which a col­lec­ti­vi­ty is consti­tu­ted. “The din­ner table plays a cen­tral role in our so­cie­ty. It can still bring people to­ge­ther des­pite all the com­plexi­ty in­vol­ved.” This is at­tes­ted to by the re­fu­sal of the se­con­da­ry cha­rac­ters to give up their place. Gba­to­kai, the on­ly non-fa­mi­ly mem­ber present, stands up to the ra­cists and sup­ports Ch­ris­tian; Kim the co­ok, Ch­ris­tian’s child­hood friend, en­cou­rages him to keep up the fight by kee­ping anyone from lea­ving; even his bro­ther Mi­chael, the fa­ther’s al­ly, fi­nal­ly lis­tens to rea­son. Thus Fes­ten is the sto­ry of a crum­bling edi­fice. We see the house change du­ring the course of a cruel day fol­lo­wed by a long night and en­ding with ano­ther dawn. The cur­tain comes down too qui­ck­ly for us to know what will be­come of the state of Den­mark and ma­ny others.

Thi­baut Sar­dier, a gra­duate of the Ecole Nor­male Su­pé­rieure de Lyon, is a co­lum­nist and cri­tic.

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