review by Samantha mooney
Sally Potter’s latest film The Party is fast paced verbal warfare. Like all cinematic dinner parties from hell, there are insufferable guests, shock revelations, dramatic confessions, hidden affairs coming to light, fights, death and burnt food.
Potter’s script is short yet sharp and the film plays out in real time. Accompanied by Alexey Rodionov’s monochrome cinematography the film plays homage to dinner party classics, such as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, that have come before it.
The film begins with Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas), a Westminster politician, celebrating her recent appointment as Health Minister. As she occupies herself in the kitchen making canapes and sending messages to her secret lover, her husband Bill (Timothy Spall) sits in the centre of the living room, looking forlorn, an expression that doesn’t change throughout the film, listening to his favourite records and drinking wine.
Janet has arranged an intimate gathering of her closest bourgeois friends to mark this occasion in her political career. Guests begin to arrive and first at the door is best friend and truth-telling cynic April (Patricia Clarkson), who breezes through the doorway congratulating her friend Janet, while at the same time declaring that “democracy is dead”. April is a lapsed idealist who now “expects the worse of everyone in the name of realism.” April is accompanied by her long-term New-Age hippie, German partner Gottfried, an anti-political humanist life coach (played brilliantly by Bruno Ganz, best known for his portrayal Adolf Hitler). This unlikely couple deliver some of the film’s best lines and cause the most laughter throughout the 71 minute dinner party nightmare.
Next to arrive is Martha (Cherry Jones) an academic specialist in “gender differentiation on American utopianism” and her pregnant partner Jinny (Emily Mortimer). Martha and Jinny are “first rate lesbians and second rate thinkers” according to April, whose wise cracks never ceases to tire.
April is keen to see the undoubtedly attractive, yet ‘wanker banker’, Tom (Cillian Murphy) and his wife Mary-Anne, at the party. When she answers the door only a highly agitated and cocaine-dusted Tom is standing there. Tom has brought a gun and a hidden bombshell to the party. However, his plans are quickly turned around when Bill makes his grand revelation. From there the pace of the film gathers momentum and the absurdity of the lives of these academics comes spiralling out of control.
The Party is a satire of the British elite of late and the bubble they live their lives in. A deftly acted dark comedy where each character gets perfectly set up and the audience can delight in watching them fall down.