Written and Directed by: Sally Potter
Produced by: Christopher Sheppard, Kurban Kassam
Cinematographer: Alexey Rodionov
Starring: Patricia Clarkson, Bruno Ganz, Cherry Jones, Emily Mortimer, Cillian Murphy, Kristin Scott Thomas and Timothy Spall.
The Party is a film filled with cynical wit as newly appointed Shadow Minister of Health, Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) celebrates her new post by hosting a party.
Bill (Timothy Spall), husband and long-time supporter sits in a daze with a glass in hand as each guest arrives: best friend April (Patricia Clarkson) and her New Age partner, Gottfried (Bruno Ganz), lesbian couple Martha (Cherry Jones) and Jinny (Emily Mortimer), newly pregnant, and the handsome financier, Tom (Cillian Murphy) – all sitting on their own agenda as a constant barrage of political and social standpoints are thrown around the room building to their very own announcements.
A film of contrasts, and not just because the entirety is shot in black and white, but because of the contrast of ideals and personalities. Even the music played on the turntable by Bill is a bizarre backdrop and soundtrack to the emotive tension in the lounge room; tragedy and trauma played out to the rumba and reggae creating the ridiculous and send-up to all the seriousness discussed from life expectancy related to economics and class rather than diet and exercise – a statistic Janet and husband Bill have always agreed upon – to the question of life after death.
The setting of the film is the house of Janet and Bill – there’s no hiding as each character is forced to face the crisis looming in each relationship: the dying academic, the cheating wife; each person intellectualising their emotion into a rational argument all to the sound of Bill’s insistence of playing record after record, his need for music a compulsion to express.
This is a film driven by dialogue, and the set was created and shot on stage like a play where each character slowly unravels as each reveals the next revelation – the story’s interest in the layers of rationale used as self-protection being pealed away to show the raw human hiding underneath; argument and ideals and political stances made as an adult only to show the child still hiding underneath. Except for April. Now a cynic. Janet asks her best friend, ‘Have I been emotionally unavailable?’
Of which April replies, ‘It’s not a productive line of thought’.
There are so many subtle moments that got me giggling. Small details like Bill sitting confused, a glass of red in one hand and the celebratory glass of champagne in the other.
It’s sad, it’s tragic. And the understanding of what we cling to, to keep our ego’s intact, is examined and oh so very funny.
Writer and director Sally Potter (Orlando (1992)), states she wrote the script with an awareness of the absurdity of human suffering; the highlight for me April as she cuts through any emotion with her scathing, but not to be taken personally, remarks aimed at revealing the true and rational perspective with her unblinking eye, ‘You’re a first-rate lesbian and a second-rate thinker.’
To which Martha, Professor of Women’s Studies replies ‘April, Really. I am a professor. Specializing in domestic labour gender differentiation in American utopianism.’
‘Exactly,’ says April.
Left with nothing unnecessary for the story to come full-circle in 71 minutes, The Party is a clever film that takes you into the claustrophobic world of relationships in crisis viewed through the lens of a political satire; the most selfless of the group the coke snorting soulless financier, Tom – now that’s cynical.
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