Original Name: The Party
Director: Sally Potter
Runtime: 71 minutes
IMDB Link: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5814592/
Sally Potter: an indie British filmmaker who directed many well-received films include Orlando (1992), The Man Who Cried (2000), and Ginger & Rosa (2012). She has won more than 40 awards, including an OBE.
“I wanted to find a way of making a comedy first of all, but also something that felt purely cinematic, something you could only see and feel through the lens; I didn’t want something stagey, but it had to have the qualities where characters could fully reveal themselves in a very compressed space of time. That constraint of having it all in one place was peculiarly freeing, as it meant that we could concentrate on what was important and not waste loads of time on stuff that wasn’t particularly vital.” – Sally Potter on The Party
Served as double meaning for the opposition party in which Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) just gets promoted as a shadow Minister of Health, and as the fateful night where anything could go wrong, goes wrong, The Party is a witty, dark (in more ways than one) comedy with a bit of social commentary edge, but ultimately not something that leave much of a lasting impact. Running at a stark 71 minutes, this is your definition of “short and sweet”, although because of that the plot feels undercooked at times (unlike those burnt pastries). The Party’s idea would fit better in a stage play, with its dialogue-heavy, small number of cast and a single location, but the interesting aspect out of this is that it’s an original screenplay written by the director Sally Potter, and she takes advantage of this medium quite successful. The stark black-and-white photography for example, makes this film feels timeless, like it could be made some twenty, thirty years ago. The film also has many unusual camera angles, sometimes it tends to cover three, four characters in a same frame – with each of them act their own ways that speak to their characters. Other times it stays a bit too close to characters’ faces, make us feel a little uncomfortable ourselves.
The main concept of The Party is to examine a group of middle-class British where they will have to face events that eventually spiral out of their control, where numerous announcements and dry remarks keep peeling all their appearances to reveal their core characters. As such, The Party is at its sharpest when the characters act contrary to what their roles (be it social roles or relationship roles) are supposed to be. “I believe in truth and reconciliation”, at one-point Janet says, and proceeds to bite her own arm. It’s also at the time of crisis, these intellectuals start to ‘betray’ their own beliefs. Janet’s husband, Bill (the great Timothy Spall), upon finding out he has terminal disease, stumbles into faith, karma… sort of things he would laugh off before (I do have an answer for “his unanswerable question”, however. “Why me?” he asked. Well, because those things could happen to anyone and a great deal of people have it much, much worse). Or Martha (Cherry Jones), a ‘feminist’ who failed to understand her girlfriend’s needs. This film, as its core, is a sarcastic look at those archetypical characters when the rug is pulled under their pretty feet.
It helps that this talented cast elevates the material greatly. They all fit this movie like a glove and all of them have their own moments to shine. Cillian Murphy as Tom, a filthy rich banker, for example, feels like he’s out of place for the whole time with all the cracking and murderous intent but it’s a right kind of out-of-place. April (played by Patricia Clarkson) has most of the great lines with her acidic tone that could rival Bette Davis in All About Eve. (“Babies get born everyday in extremely large numbers to the point of endangering the planet and all our futures”. Godamnit April!). But this is also where the film falls short. These characters are never intended to be deep or real, and if we cross out few of their main traits (Tom: banker, rich, on crack, love his wife), they don’t have much else to define themselves. And that’s what I mean by under-cooked, if you take out this layer then there’s nothing much else to explore. You stay for The Party for the crunchy, tasty acting showcase with many deliciously poisonous lines and some mild social issues relevant in Britain right now (it ranges from social status, political stand, even internet trolls), but as the film’s bookended by the gunshot from Janet to the unknown character from audience’s perspective, I’d have much prefer if she points the gun at us and shoots us instead.