Video Note:
The Party
30 August 2018

Here it was, the end of August, and I hadn’t used my free-rental coupon for the month. So, after getting a haircut, I went round the corner to the Video Room and picked up Sally Potter’s The Party, which I had noticed on an earlier visit. Since it stars Kristin Scott Thomas, I was very interested. 

It’s an interesting picture, to say the least, but what may make it unforgettable to me is that it settles once and for all the actress’s last name. It is Scott Thomas. I’ve been trying to determine this from various Internet searches for ages, but the results have always been inconclusive, tending to favor just plain Thomas. But the credits at the end of The Party resolve the ambiguity. The cast is listed in alphabetical order, and Kristin Scott Thomas’s name appears before Timothy Spall’s. So there. 

Perhaps it was nothing more complicated than the fact that this story about a social gathering that goes amok is filmed in black-and-white, but I found it impossible not to recall Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, a comparison/contrast that only made The Party all the funnier, in its blackety-black way. I was almost always laughing, even though nothing was happening that the characters would find remotely amusing.

Perhaps it was the antics with the gun, introduced to the scene by Cillian Murphy’s character, a sweaty, coke-snorting banker who shows up alone because his wife has been delayed, and then discovered by Ms Scott Thomas’s, who is shown pointing it at the camera through her front door, both at the beginning, when we have no idea what her problem is, and at the end, when we remember that the wife was running late.

Perhaps was Mr Spall’s ability to project immobilizing shock. (We learn to like his character better when he is wide-eyed and silent.)

It couldn’t possibly have been Bruno Ganz’s impersonation of a smarmy New Age life coach, one whose ineffective ministrations are bluntly shown up by Ms Scott Thomas’s application of CPR. Could it? Maybe I ought to mention here that Ms Scott Thomas plays a successful politician who is throwing herself a little victory party. Hurr-oops! 

The three actresses whom I haven’t yet mentioned inject another kind of humor, which depends not on pratfalls but on the viewer’s judgment. Their characters all reveal themselves to be insufferable, but stylishly so, so that we’re happy to watch as long as we’re sure that they can’t see us. Patricia Clarkson and Cherry Jones play old friends of the new minister, inexplicably but unobjectionably American. They’re veteran sparring partners, and what keeps them each going is a self-filling tank of self-esteem. Both performances carry a whiff of the possibility that the ladies are really just making fun of themselves. 

Emily Mortimer plays Ms Jones’s partner. She arrives with the news that their procreative project has implanted her with the embryos of three little boys, and she sulks as only Emily Mortimer can when her lover seems less than pleased. Don’t worry; it doesn’t last very long: an inadvertent revelation sautées it into sizzling indignation. You can’t watch this film without realizing that life would run much better if we could altogether do without girls and boys, and just settle for emerging, at some attractive, early-twenties age, from a vending machine. 

The Party is very short, just a little over an hour. This is super, because it is the Sachertorte of dark farces, and any more would be too much. I had a great time, but then I wasn’t held up. 

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