There are films one can watch that have enough distinctive characteristics that, without doubt, make it obvious that it is part of a particular director’s work. Sally Potter is a rarity in that she does not seem to have a distinct visual style as each film by her is unique. However, her intended vision always seems apparent, making it impossible when viewing her films to not notice that she is the director. Potter has said, “I’m not interested in repeating myself” and The Party sees the writer and director reinvent herself once again.
The hosts of the titular dinner party are Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas), an idealist politician, and her husband Bill (Timothy Spall), a materialist with a love for vinyl records. Whilst Janet juggles preparing the dinner and taking congratulatory phone calls on her senior ministerial promotion, Bill sits dejected in the living room listening to music absorbed in his own thoughts. This immediately displays that their marriage is not an entirely happy one only to be followed by the arrival of April (Patricia Clarkson) who makes no secret of the divide between her and her partner Gottfried (Bruno Ganz) who joins Bill. However, the audience is not allowed to dwell on these relationships for too long as a further three guests swiftly show up. Jinny (Emily Mortimer) and Martha (Cherry Jones), the third couple, are soon followed by Tom (Cillian Murphy), a banker with a cocaine addiction who seems to be constantly in a state of panic. All these characters who are rapidly introduced, might seem a lot for an audience to get their head around, but each of them is distinct from the other. The frenzied pace of The Party continues with Jinny and Martha announcing they are excepting triplets. However, this added celebration is halted when Bill discloses that he is terminally ill. Unexpected revelations are a continual driving force in this 71-minute chamber piece and how each character reacts to these new developments helps to keep the audience engaged.
One thing that is inherent in Potter’s films is that her characters have great depth, in particular, her female characters. The Party is no different. Each character has their principles challenged by another character in the film, thus compelling the audience to evaluate their own principles. For example, Janet’s idealism is often questioned by her best friend April’s cynicism. Even Gottfried’s disapproval of western medicine is denounced by Jinny as she exclaims how science has impacted her life through In Vitro Fertilization. Bill and Tom also exchange words at one-point over money and capitalism. These disparate themes might seem a lot to tackle in just over an hour, but Potter does so intelligently and leaves her audience contemplating the answers.
The mystery in each character is wonderfully supported by the black and white cinematography of Aleksei Rodionov, who has worked in the past with Potter in her previous films Orlando and Yes. The Party has some elegantly composed shots which are also showcased in Orlando as well as in Potter’s film prior to this feature, Ginger and Rosa. Where The Party diverges from these films, however, is in its overt display of comedy. Despite a couple of lulls in pace in this bristling film, The Party has an intriguing enough central story and delivers enough food for thought to leave audiences in deep thought after the film’s final revelation.