The Party


Writer/Director Sally Potter

The Party breezes in and out quickly, at just 71 minutes long it could almost be a short. Apropos of its length is its simple concept – a small dinner party to celebrate the government appointment of the host goes sideways after a shocking revelation. The writing is smart and funny, and that the partygoers are Patricia Clarkson, Bruno Ganz, Cherry Jones, Emily Mortimer, Cillian Murphy, Timothy Spall, and Kristin Scott Thomas is nearly everything.

They are all effected by the news, some more complicit than others, but all involved in its aftermath with varying consequences and reactions. Although the key events of the story are serious and have emotional weight, they are mostly showcased in a comedic framework, which has the odd effect of making me laugh at the funny reactions of the characters to what are often grave happenings.

The black and white film is an intellectual and philosophical comedy which often reminded me of Woody Allen, except without as much neurosis. There is a great deal of commentary on a myriad of subjects – political and personal idealism vs practicality, love, infidelity, death, the efficacy of Western medicine, the exploitation of the working class, and more.

Lots of great laughs at mostly the zingers delivered to virtually everyone by April (Ms. Clarkson, surgical) who seems to be Janet’s (Ms. Scott Thomas in fine form) dearest friend and political champion. The whole cast is in fine form, but Clarkson’s delivery is impeccable and her work alone is worth the price of admission.

Because the drama is confined to one location, the house of Bill (an excellent Mr. Spall) and Janet where they are celebrating her appointment as Minister, it feels more like a play. The music heard throughout the film is from the albums Bill and others play on his turntable, changing midstream as if a DJ were in command, and each selection commenting on the action during its scene, some quite comedically. It’s a nice touch by Ms. Potter.

This is her sixth film since her 1992 feature Orlando, probably her most well known film. I haven’t seen any of those five others, but I liked her work with Tilda Swinton in Orlando, and what she evokes from this cast reinforces the sense that she is an actor’s director. I’ll have to see her other work. Short and funny with great acting, even though the ultimate point is vague – this is a Could See.