Pastry cook and the family feast

FESTEN exposes the hypocrisy of the family under capitalism

APRILE AND Festen are two foreign language films currently on national release. The reviews of the films—portraying them as "arty"—and the fact that both are subtitled may have put you off. But both films are well worth watching and both have a political message.

Aprile is a marvellous political comedy, writes Sasha Simic. It is set in Italy in the spring of 1996 as a general election gets under way. Left wing film director Nanni Moretti can barely watch the television debates. The left wing, similar to the Labour Party in Britain, seem incapable of responding to the populist rhetoric of right wing media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi.

Moretti is torn between two projects. Should he make a documentary exposing Italy's current political scene? Or will he follow his heart and finally film his long planned dream project, a fifties musical about a Trotskyist pastry cook? He can't decide. He starts one project only to stop and start the other.

This inability to choose is the theme of the film. The indecision and paralysis is not just that of Moretti but of the Italian left as well. The tragedy of the old left, muses Moretti, is that it looked to the Stalinist regime in Moscow. The tragedy of the new left is that it did not look to the power of the working class but to "radical" movements that sometimes behaved like terrorists.

Moretti and his partner are about to have their first child. What sort of Italy will their child be born into? Moretti films an Italy where supposedly left wing parties treat the Albanian refugees, who have risked their lives to get there, as electoral liabilities and embarrassments.

The Danish film Festen (Celebration) comes with a lot of hype, writes Paul McGarr. The film won awards at last year's Cannes film festival and has provoked controversy since. Festen is the first offering from Dogma 95, a radical group of directors. The group claims to reject the values of big budget Hollywood movies. They aim to drag cinema away from illusion and towards truth and realism.

Festen itself centres on the 60th birthday celebration of the head of a rich Danish family. All the family arrive for the celebration dinner, and proceedings follow a well worn ritualised form—at first. But then the evening explodes in a black and at times disturbing comedy. The eldest son makes a dinner speech—and stuns those present by accusing his father of sexually abusing him and his now dead twin sister. Denial, attempts to maintain the appearance of respectability and family harmony, then further revelations all follow in a series of often funny and sometimes shocking events.

The technical methods used are effective—if hardly as revolutionary as the Dogma 95 group proclaims —and you feel as if you are listening in at a real party. The film savages the myth of the family in capitalist society. Beneath the veneer of respectability lies a dark and rotten heart of abuse, hatred, bullying, violence and racism. The claim to be realistic, though, is somewhat contradicted by the almost nightmarish unbelievable events. And apart from the servants, it is hard to feel much sympathy with any of the characters. But Festen is gripping and merciless in its onslaught on the hypocrisy and horror beneath the respectable veil of the family.


Wales—a tale of two traditions

by NICK DUNCAN, Socialist Workers Party candidate for Neath in the Welsh Assembly

PETER HAIN, the MP for Neath and a leading moderniser in the Welsh Labour Party, has just issued a new pamphlet, A Welsh Third Way. The pamphlet, published by Tribune, is little more than a cheerleaders' chorus to Tony Blair and New Labour's race to the right.

Hain was Alun Michael's campaign manager in the stitch up for New Labour's prospective leader of the Welsh Assembly. Hain tries to argue that there is a distinctive tradition which is neither state control from above nor only tinkering with society through small reforms. He finds the roots of this in Welsh revolts of the 19th century, such as the Merthyr Rising of 1831 and the Newport Rising of 1839.

These certainly were inspiring movements. But it is incredible that Hain tries to tie this tradition to the present business-worshipping New Labour. At the centre of these revolts were workers who had taken up arms and confronted the state in an attempt to spark insurrectionary movements—a long way from Alun Michael. Hain also misses out the great struggles of the early 20th century in the coalfields. He argues strongly against the Welsh nationalism of Plaid Cymru, but nowhere mentions the British nationalism of Labour, Old and New.

Hain is left arguing for little more than capitalism with a humane face, despite all his fine words about "libertarian socialism". There is a different tradition in Wales, however. For £2, the same price as Hain's pamphlet, you can get Charlie Kimber's Wales, Class Struggle and Socialism—which shatters the illusion that Welsh workers can improve their lot by being civil to the bosses.


WITH THE media dominated by pro-war propaganda and the Easter holiday leading to a rush of trivia, it is a good week not to be watching television. There are a few exceptions.

EGYPT'S LOST CITY (Sat, 8.15pm, BBC2) is an interesting look at the Pharaoh Akenaten and the lost city of Amarna. It's about social change and the forces which fight it.

MOBY DICK (Mon, 8pm, BBC2) is an animated version of the great book by Herman Melville. It should encourage you to read the novel if you have never got round to it.

The film WUTHERING HEIGHTS (Tues, 1.30pm, C4) is a version of the classic novel. It stars Laurence Olivier.

COUNTERBLAST: THE PRICE OF CONSERVATION (Tues, 7.30pm, BBC2) could be good. It looks at the lives of ordinary people in part of Tanzania and argues that they are excluded from all the important decisions about the management of the land as well as the income from tourists. According to presenter Dr Charles Lane, the people at the bottom still endure poverty while a small layer have skimmed off riches.