Thursday 9 November 2017

Review by Robert Richardson of “The Party” (2017, film, directed by Sally Potter)

Early in The Party, one of its erudite characters mentions postmodernism, and this is a film taking place within giant quotation marks. Even Sally Potter’s shooting in stylish black and white might be seen as a retro realism achieved in too conscious a way. The satire is reflexive, for example Jinny, a lesbian pregnant with triplets, is dressed in dungarees, satirising both lazy tropes and the film’s willingness to include them.

Parties as settings inevitably lead to an emphasis on characters and relationships. This one is being hosted by Janet, as a celebration for her recent appointment to the shadow cabinet (which is obviously Labour, though that is not explicitly stated). Those invited are her friends and their partners. Most of this group know each other, some, secretly, too well; their tangled relationships bring a succession of surprises, and the best one is at the end (no spoiler for that). The characters belong to a milieu of politics and academia, with the exceptions being Gottfried, a wacky and annoying life coach, and Tom, described by Janet’s husband Bill, a professor of Roman history, as a “wanker banker”. Tom comes to the party with a hidden gun and the intention of murdering Bill. He has discovered, through texts and emails, that Bill is having an affair with his wife (absent but expected to arrive late). Consequently, Tom is in a nervous state, and while the suppressed resentments of other characters erupt verbally, his tensions break out more physically and this makes for a few moments of farce, preventing the film from being too one paced.

It is essentially an impressive ensemble performance, nevertheless, the party is taking place at the house of Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) and Bill (Timothy Spall) and this gives them more weight. Spall is someone who can act slowly, which is just right for the lugubrious and drunk Bill, who uses the party to reveal he is terminally ill. Janet, herself having an affair, reacts hypocritically and violently when Bill admits to one of his own. Before this, Scott Thomas presents in a subtle way Janet’s sympathy and love when Bill announces his illness. With other characters there are also hints of more genuine people beneath their coldly constructed personae.

The influence of Pinter is strong: the lies and betrayals within personal relationships offset against support by those same characters for high standards of ethical behaviour. Potter’s target is not so much a liberal elite as those who are smug, humourless and take themselves far too seriously. Her comedy about them is intelligent, elegant and a delight.

About the reviewer
Robert Richardson is a visual artist and writer. His work is included in Artists’ Postcards: A Compendium (edited by Jeremy Cooper, published by Reaktion Books, London). In 2014, his solo exhibition TextSpaces was exhibited at Eugen Gomringer’s Kunsthaus Rehau in Germany. One of his designs will be included in a book about Leeds Postcards, to be published in 2018 by Four Corners Books. He is a member of the Biennale Austria association of contemporary artists.

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