Upon viewing Sally Potter’s The Party, traditional theatergoers in particular may be disillusioned with the fact that this is a story that looks meant for the stage. It takes place in a single setting, runs for a mere 71 minutes, and paces itself through the skillfully written conversations and performances of its cast. In spite of its theatricality however, the film cements itself as an art house gem through its stylish black-and-white aesthetic and an engagingly thorough series of twists that expertly grips its audience into the numerous primary and secondary dramas boiling underneath this ensemble of intellectuals. A film in which each line of dialogue feels meticulously composed, The Party may very well be one of the most purely intellectual comedies of the year, as its humor comes not from any form of slapstick or excessive profanity but through its biting wit alone.
The Party revolves around a gathering at Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) and Bill’s (Timothy Spall) house, in which a group of close friends have gathered to celebrate Janet’s recent promotion to Shadow Minister of Health. The champagne pours as this colorful group of ideologists comes together, at which point Bill reveals a secret that causes this group of sophisticated socialites to devolve into savages. Each character subscribes to a specific set of beliefs. Janet is an idealist, Bill is an atheist rationalist, Martha (Cherry Jones) and Jinny (Emily Mortimer) are a radical feminist duo, April (Patricia Clarkson) is a widely outspoken cynic, Gottfried (Bruno Ganz) is a self-proclaimed life coach and spiritualist healer, while Tom (Cillian Murphy) is an economically obsessed drug-fueled banker. Though constricting these characters’ personalities into differing ideologies can be considered limiting towards their development, it makes for fantastic rapport as each member of this understated cast offer a string of remarkably quotable lines as an almost Hitchcockian level of suspense lingers through this carefully woven mystery.
It is hard to choose a standout performer within the film as each one embodies their character to a fascinating degree, their essence felt in every line, quip and insult that gets spattered throughout this hellish middle-class gathering.
The film opens with a bang as Janet points her gun directly at the camera to an unseen figure, only to flashback to show us how the sequence of events came to conclude so shockingly. Potter forcefully misleads her audience at every turn to the extent that even though we see the film’s ending at its start, by the end of the film it means something entirely different. Even if stripped of its visuals and rendered into a purely acoustic play, The Party still makes for an absorbing experience due to the musical rhythms of its dialogue. Ideologies are challenged and debated as each of these characters come face to face with opposing beliefs in order to escape the problems that have befallen them from so categorically classifying their worldviews. Its remarkable writing however is fully supported by its craft, as its quick edits play an instrumental role in compressing a great range of themes into such a short runtime, granting it the rapid pacing of a real argument; and its camerawork dances around the squabbling dinner guests, embracing the limits of its space by consistently framing them from new perspectives. Its brief runtime in many ways feels like a blessing, as it allows every aspect of its craft to be tightly controlled so that not a single beat goes to waste.
The Party is a powerful feature that fits wonderfully well into the postmodernism of art house cinema. It is a story that lends itself adaptable to multiple mediums that needs no more than a single location and a committed cast of actors to execute. While this histrionic type of film may have been common in the past, Sally Potter tackles the concept with several modern and refreshing adjustments, as it is at the same time stylistically theatrical yet utterly naturalistic. The Party is a brilliantly crafted film that resonates well beyond its brief run time and due to its excellent construction, even in 71 minutes, never feels too short.
The Party is released on UK DVD, Blu-ray and digital download from February 19th 2018.