[…] This perfect balance between exaggeration and plausibility is nothing but the essential element for humour, to which «The Party» is largely devoted.
[…] The living room, the kitchen, the bathroom, the garden, all constitute an architecture of layers that represent the different degrees between public and private, official and secret, true and false.
Sally Potter’s latest movie is in black-and-white and her camera indulges with almost Wellesian expressionistic images, but the film stands strong mainly because of the brilliant realistic dialogues performed by such solid actors. The characters are very typified, but they don’t become caricatural because they are realistically designed. This perfect balance between exaggeration and plausibility is nothing but the essential element for humour, to which The Party is largely devoted. Nota bene: it is not the subtle British humour that she is working with, but rather a mixture of sarcasm and humour by surprise.
The strongest formal experience we take away from this movie is the experience of time. When the story comes to an end it cuts itself off more like an interruption than a proper ending as if only the first chapter of the story had been told. Seventy-one minutes is not a long time, but it should be long enough to give us the impression of having watched something more than a long short movie… The dramaturgy is complex, each of the characters representing a point of view, and a world interacting with other worlds within the four walls of the bourgeois house. The density of this multi-layered material, however, has no influence on the quick tempo, which is perfectly mastered by Sally Potter in order to deliver a sort of one-act theatrical piece.
The main ingredient of the pulsating rhythm of The Party is the abundant use of the coup-de-théâtre, each time helping to accelerate the plot. Humorous surprises and coup-de-théâtre often coincide in creating a spectacle of fireworks. This formal aspect brings to mind Peter Sellers’ The Party (1968): the homonymy aside, a comparison between the two movies would be interesting not only for the formal aspects. Where Sellers’ The Party celebrates and criticizes the world of Hollywood – along with many Western social codes – through the cultural clash with a candid Indian hero, Potter’s The Party appears more as a self-criticism of the British high society in its moment of self-destruction. If both of them display a sort of deregulation in the dramaturgic line, Sellers’ movie goes towards the collective and the chaotic, the young and the pleasure for the unknown, whereas Potter’s allows the instinctive and individualist nature of man to emerge; more precisely: the nature of older men and women. Perhaps it is the the difference between two epochs: the one is directed toward the ideology of an open society while the other points to the ruins of a post-ideological era in which private values come back with their disintegrating force. In this way, the London-based filmmaker is particularly sensitive to post-feminism and its questions, which are sketched here through a pitiless portrait.
How could Potter convey a complex analysis of a world of disenchantment through such a quick comedy (that could be better labelled a tragicomedy)? She achieves this synthesis not only thanks to the actors’ tremendous performances and the skilful pregnancy of the script, but also through an intelligent use of the filmic space. The living room, the kitchen, the bathroom, the garden, all constitute an architecture of layers that represent the different degrees between public and private, official and secret, true and false. The masterful filmic use of these architectural elements allows Sally Potter to make the plot and the complex subjects of her movie more compact.
In Sally Potter’s The Party the consumption of drinks and food is constantly postponed insofar as the relationships and the beliefs are consumed and are gradually wore out. Thus, humour and self-destruction seem to find a deeper alliance, leaving us with both a smile on our lips and sadness in our eyes.
Text: Giuseppe Di Salvatore
First published: July 31, 2017