Directed and Written by Sally Potter
Drawing on a familiar theme, The Party benefits from its efficient run-time of barely 70 minutes to deliver a quick, solid punch of social satire, as the basic premise is that the host of the party has just become a minister for Health, and she has decided to throw a party for it. It is of course obvious that the situation will unravel in some type of chaos, but the nature of how it unfolds is a striking and hilarious stab at how intellectual, upper-class white folk can disagree and agree on the most bizarre of subjects. The dialogue is also scathing where necessary, containing some fabulous lines delivered in that dry, British way (“Darling, you are a first class lesbian, but a second class thinker”).
As with any good film without a unique plot, especially one that is set in one or two rooms for the most part, this film is all about character. We are spoiled with not only a flawless cast, but with the contrasts between each personality. Everyone is excellent, but Timothy Spall is the most memorable as the charmisa oozes from him- or rather, a lack of it. The way his depressed, semi-catatonic drinking character finds humour in the darkest of situations is subtle but very funny, and this is given an extra layer by the fact that Bill’s sly comments are most definitely set within the aforementioned bizarre world of upper-white-class problems. What he says doesn’t seem like much of a slight, but the reactions of the other guests is spot-on.
The host, Janet (Kristin Scott-Thomas) is perfect as Bill’s wife, putting everything into her character, who certainly goes through a whirlwind of emotions during the 70 minutes, as does everyone attending if we’re being honest here. But a revelation halfway through the film changes the tone dramatically (yet it still manages to be funny), and Scott-Thomas effortlessly changes gears, only for more complications to arise- we see a vast array of her skill. Her theatre roots shine through in this very intimate film, a lot of close-ups centering on her face.
Bill and Janet’s guests feature Margret’s close friend April, a very assertive Patricia Clarkson, and her hilarious partner Gottfried, a comically-timed perfect role by Bruno Ganz. Gottfried is a life coach with extensive knowledge in Eastern medicine. How far this knowledge reaches is a recurring joke- but not enough to be intrusive or to get old, as variations on the theme are used. Western medicine is akin to voodoo he posits. Gottfried is involved in some of the best scenes as his absurdly laid-back, possible LSD-influenced attitude to life is an incredibly inappropriate response to what his happening in the second act.
Other close friends invited are Martha and Jinny, a lesbian couple who are expecting. This is grounds for more humour exploring uncomfortable social themes, as there a few lines that dig deeper than they first seem about the complications of their lifestyle. The minor squabbling that arises out of nowhere between the couple is great and again smacks of ‘white people problems’.
The only unwelcome guest is Tom (an as always excellent Cillian Murphy), a banker. Perhaps it is cliche – but there is certainly a logic behind it, as this is what bankers do – Tom’s first pit stop is the bathroom to cut up a couple of lines for immediate ingestion. We also see here the first real alarm bell of the movie, as he has a gun hidden under his expensive suit and is quite obviously nervous.
The film has numerous twists but none seem forced, they all seem to be part a of natural unfolding of events in an increasingly surreal yet satirically dead-on film. The black and white colour scheme could be interpreted in a few ways, but the best feature about it is the alien feeling it gives to a film that feels increasingly so as it swiftly moves by. The direction is brilliant, as all parties are in the same room when it is needed; at other times three groups may be separated as we wonder if the crisis is being unheard or simply ignored.
Perhaps the most welcome aspect of this flick is the way it doesn’t treat its audience like a pack of moronic sheep, as so many comedies do today, specifically the immature garbage that is excreted from Hollywood on an alarmingly regular basis. Like a lot of British comedy, it somewhat assumes that you have a brain in your head. If you know nothing about politics, if you know nothing about Western vs Eastern medicine and spiritualism, a lot of this film will fly over your head. Not that you need a PhD to enjoy the film, far from it; it is simply refreshing to see a different attitude to comedy, not unlike Captain Fantastic. No surprise then that you’d class this as an an ‘indie ‘festival film’.
A full sixer.
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