Director: Sally Potter
Starring: Kristin Scott Thomas, Timothy Spall, Cillian Murphy
Running Time: 71 mins
Sally Potter, acclaimed British director of Ginger & Rosa and Orlando, re-defines her style yet again in her newest oeuvre The Party, an unfiltered dark comedy rife with style and eccentric characters, presenting a sharp comment on champagne socialism, in an achingly funny fashion.
Considering that the last few weeks have been abundant with eagerly anticipated high budget productions like Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 and Darren Aronofsky’s Mother, it is incredibly refreshing to see a low-budget, independent film competing with such high-profile productions. Impressively shot in just 13 days, in a small studio in West London, with a largely European cast and crew, Potter displays a shear marvel of filmmaking, in a subdued style, and in a short and sweet 71 minutes.The Party follows the newly appointed minister of health, Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas), and the soiree she hosts to celebrate her new role with her ambiguously subdued, academic husband Bill (Timothy Spall). Invited to this celebration are partners Martha (Cherry Jones) and Jinny (Emily Mortimer), bolshie couple April (Patricia Clarkson) and Gottfried (Bruno Ganz), and “wanker banker” (as April calls him) Tom, played by Cillian Murphy. Though a celebration at first, after Bill (Spall) reveals to the congregation rather shocking and unsettling news, the film becomes a melting pot of extreme emotions, leaving the characters in an explosive free-fall; increasing the film’s pace to an exciting yet slightly unnerving degree.
Today, it is certainly a shock to see a contemporary film in black and white, though as stated in Wim Wenders’ 1982 film The State of Things, “life is in colour, but black and white is more real” – a principle that can certainly be applied to The Party. It is clear that the use of black and white is not just a aesthetic choice in this film, the monochromatic pallet both reflects the film’s prosaic political subject, and intensifies its rabid, unfiltered dialogue holding such a prevalent role in the film.
Every character is extreme in their own way.
The energy of the film is intense, extremely exciting and engaging, in part due to the incredible ensemble of actors. Kristin Scott Thomas’ performance as Janet is perhaps the standout performance of the ensemble, playing a character almost reminiscent of Mrs Dalloway; fleeting from a rather domesticated role at the beginning of the film, to asserting her imperious side in the film’s transient last scene. Her character is perhaps best summed up by April’s comment to Martha, describing Janet as “doing a Thatcher, proving she can still rustle up a canapé despite her political prowess”.
The enigmatic energy of the film is also as a result of the carnage that ensues amongst the ensemble. Every character is extreme in their own way: Tom in his drug misuse, Jinny in her flawed views of Bill, and Janet in her actions come the end of the film. The characters, who impose their moral and intellectual values so strongly at the beginning of the film, end up losing their heads, their integrity, and their intellectual compass due to an abrupt lack of reasoning. As a result of the film’s short running time, intense energy, and its enigmatic cliffhanger, it feels incredibly theatrical – almost like a one act play, its purpose being to let you in to this fleeting bubble of carnage and humour, and leave you shocked and stunned as soon as you’ve stepped out of it.Contrast – aside from its aesthetic black and white manifestation – is a prevalent pattern and theme in the film. Life versus death, immoral versus moral, private versus public; all are matters of concern for the characters. A common conflict between and within the characters is the push and pull between their empathy and their unapologetic judgement; a contrast most strikingly seen in April, through her consistent and remorseless commentary on any of her company’s passing behaviour.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the film is its dialogue; creating a constant see-saw of insults, intellectual digs, superciliousness, and the most obscure slapdash remarks from April’s husband, Gottfried, a self-professed life-coach, whose observations, though wacky, reflect the power struggle in their marriage – as April says to Gottfried, unapologetically, “shut up Gottfried, your clichés are unbearable”.
In the Post-Brexit realm of today, this film couldn’t be more politically relevant, presenting a group of bourgeois left-wing characters and the crisis of exactly that. Furthermore, it is particularly interesting considering that the EU Referendum result occurred mid-way through the shooting of the film, naturally causing upset amongst the cast and crew. The ensemble of characters are a sort of intelligentsia, full of scholarly wit and pointed thinking, charming yet unsettling qualities when the characters are in conflict with one another (as they often are).
Overall, The Party is a sensational piece of filmmaking, offering an injection of uproarious comedy in a tragic setting. It succeeds in providing audiences with an explosive insight into how the body can so suddenly and so uncharacteristically supersede the reason of the mind, with tragic effects. It is a film that is both charming and shocking, and should deservedly be a speedy successor to box office spotlight.