The Party is a gorgeous and anxious piece of choreography from the great Sally Potter. Potter, who along with Jane Campion isag one of the fierce matriarchs of postmodern cinema, began her career in stage choreography, music composition, and opera. The Party blends her eye for movement with her ear for music seamlessly. There isn’t a single moment that feels like it wasn’t immaculately constructed for the audience’s viewing pleasure.
The characters are all difficult people. It’s as if Potter decided to make a film in which a bunch of pretentious white people decided to have a party even though they are all at their very worst. Like a play by Agatha Christie at her most Hitchcockian, Potter gives us a cast of frustrating, juicy anti-heroes and places them all in a finite space:
Janet the Progressive Idealist (Kristin Scott Thomas) is a British politician who has just won a significant victory for the opposition party. The party is being thrown in celebration. It takes place at her home, the home she shares with her partner.
Bill the Wallowing Alcoholic (Timothy Spall) is Janet’s longtime partner. He sits in a drunken stupor, staring sadly into empty space.
April the Hardened Cynic (Patricia Clarkson) is Janet’s closest friend and confidant. She is angry and nosey. She despises her partner and has announced to the gathering of old friends that she is leaving him.
Gottfried the New Age Healer (Bruno Ganz) is April’s partner. April refers to him as “that German.” He talks far too much during the party about his political and philosophical opinions.
Martha the Feminist Expert (Cherry Jones) is Bill’s old friend and former roommate. She is the enlightened, progressive feminist scholar of the party.
Jinny the Wounded Realist (Emily Mortimer) is Martha’s younger wife. She is pregnant with triplets and makes this announcement to Martha at the very beginning of the film. Martha does not take this well.
Tom the Drug-Addled Rich Boy (Cillian Murphy) arrives at the party very agitated. His wife, Marianne, is curiously absent. Tom doesn’t have a good explanation as to her absence and he spends a good deal of time in the washroom snorting coke off the bathtub and frantically talking to himself in the mirror. He brought a gun that he hides in his suit coat.
Things feel tense among the guests as each one circles the other, making nice, but truly harboring something ugly. April, as it turns out, is the one who draws the ugliness out of everyone, like poison from a wound. Patricia Clarkson’s performance as April is a truly great one. It is not until the largely silent Bill finally makes a devastating announcement to the party that everything begins to unravel. Marianne, Tom’s missing wife, becomes the focal point of many conversations and an eruption of feminist ideals and cocktails overwhelms the agitated coke fiend with the gun. Eventually, the gun will change hands. Where it ends up and how it ends up there is one of the things that makes Potter’s delicious chamber comedy darkly hilarious.
The Party is a short film, clocking in at one hour and eleven minutes, and it is the most engrossing hour of film I have viewed in a long time. Potter truly embraces the dance of the camera as she follows each gesture and word as if they were pirouettes or pliés.
The final three seconds of the film takes all of the gut wrenching content from the past hour and make it all funny in a way that is tastefully over the top. Sally Potter’s The Party is Beckett’s Waiting for Godot for the Trump Era. It is a film by a woman, featuring women, that makes tragic overtures concerning the strength and fragility of feminism. We need Sally Potter and, in the first few months of 2018, we need the venomous bite and black humor of The Party. It is the first great film of the year and I hope many people see it. I can’t wait to devour it again.