By Zachary Sheridan
Directed by Sally Potter
If interpreted as a send-up of the “upper” echelons of society, then The Party is a success. The tightly crammed 71-minute farce has a star studded cast who all give fine performances, including the likes of Kristin Scott Thomas (Four Weddings and a Funeral, The English Patient), Patricia Clarkson (The Green Mile), Timothy Spall (Harry Potter), and the wonderful Bruno Ganz (Downfall) to name just half. Their characters, along with four other dinner guests, seem a microcosm of society at large, with both sides of the political coin featuring as well as the finance man; the new age guru; the gay couple about to have kids, etc. They’re all there to celebrate Janet’s (Kristin Scott Thomas) promotion to Minister of Health but, of course, things go awry. It’s a classic ‘Oh look at us intellectuals drinking red wine and talking big ideas but oh no here comes some family betrayal and big secrets and drama.’ In this respect, the plot isn’t surprising, but it doesn’t necessarily matter because of the pace.
And it is because The Party goes from zero to a thousand in seconds that it should probably be seen as a send up. Everything feels contrived and otherworldly. The characters talk in such clichés – to the point where April (Patricia Clarkson) makes a self-aware remark – that you cannot take them seriously. (Warning: Spoilers Ahead) The banker’s doing cocaine – wow, what a shock. The husband and wife are both having affairs – didn’t see that one coming. The new age dude is going to rabbit on about the faults of western medicine for the entire film – interesting choice. Things get a little old and character choices become weird (the almost falling out between Martha and Jinny is super strange). They talk so much politics – both old and new (the Nazis are even brought up) – that it becomes meaningless. And perhaps this is the point. The fact that the film’s black and white for no obvious reason hints at another layer of snobbish send up.
There are some genuinely funny moments and some potent comments amidst the mess. At one point April remarks to Janet something along the lines of, ‘If you want to lead this country then you need a new haircut.’ A sad reality of world politics that reminded me of the senseless interest in what our ex PM Julia Gillard was wearing, rather than the policies she was putting forth. The mise-en-scène was also interesting – I would never use that word but the pretentiousness of The Party calls for it – as shots slowly became more jarring as things fell apart. The diegetic sound – all coming from Bill’s attempt at a disco via his record player – further assist in enveloping us in the film.
Also what helped for me personally was my position in relation to the screen. Because we had arrived just before eight, a friend and I had to lie on the grass about 15m from the screen’s position, craning up at the visuals towering over us. (Pro tip: Now that summer is getting hot, arrive early). We resolved that if things got boring, we could just tilt our head to the stars. Luckily, The Party is a fun and strange evening at the outdoor cinema.
It’s also worth mentioning that the short beforehand – Derin Seale’s The Eleven O’Clock starring Josh Lawson and Damon Herriman – is a treat. And props to the couple who tango’d to The Party’s closing credits.