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Film review: The Party

Film & TV

The barbs fly thick and fast in experimentalist filmmaker Sally Potter’s gleefully nasty black comedy.

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Opening with a fast-forward shot of the frazzled hostess aiming a gun at the camera, The Party then works its way towards to this climactic scene in a concise 71 minutes.

The night begins with guests arriving at the London home of Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) and Bill (Timothy Spall) to celebrate Janet’s appointment to the impressive role of Minister of Health in the British Parliament.

First to arrive is her brilliantly caustic best friend April (Patricia Clarkson), an idealist turned political realist, who takes no prisoners with her cerebral, scorching one-liners.  Accompanying her is boyfriend Gottfried (Bruno Ganz), a New Age life coach whose humanist clichés generate significant eye-rolling among the other more politically engaged dinner guests. Stern feminist academic Martha (Cherry Jones) and her newly pregnant partner Jinny (Emily Mortimer) draw more than their fair share of April’s waspish barbs.

The outsider among these left-leaning upper-middle-class dinner guests is financial hotshot Tom (Cillian Murphy), who is killing time waiting for his wife to arrive by doing lines of cocaine and manically obsessing over what to do with the gun he’s concealed beneath his extremely stylish suit.

Janet fusses in the kitchen while fielding congratulatory phone calls and mysterious texts, while her almost comically vacant husband sits in the lounge, drinking wine and playing a bizarre selection of vinyl records. With the guests raising glasses to Janet’s success, Bill finally rouses himself enough to drop the first of a series of bombshells that will tear apart Janet’s life before she even manages to serve the vol au vents.

To reveal any more would spoil the deliciousness of the fallout, as secret after secret is brought to light in this deeply black comedy.  With the action confined to three rooms and a courtyard, it’s the razor-sharp dialogue that creates the momentum. No one is safe as the one-liners fly. This brilliant characters fall upon each other with relish, slashing open political and personal pretensions and feeding on the entrails.

Shot in black and white by cinematographer Aleksei Rodionov and craftily edited by Anders Refn and Emilie Orsini, the film has an almost claustrophobic effect as the guests’ conversational savagery builds to a crescendo, making the short running time a blessing. I’m not sure I could’ve taken much more caustic cynicism before the final twist.

If you love clever, waspish dialogue and the skewering of ideological pretensions then you won’t find many better ways to spend 71 minutes than by indulging in The Party.

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