Last week’s column lamented the reviewer’s plight when having a real paucity of recent films to choose from, a drought that comes a few times a year. At this point, I revert to a store of contemporary films that were pushed aside, but are not to be missed.
Last week’s Faces Places was one of these neglected films. This week, I’d like to bring attention to Sally Potter’s The Party – a deep, rich, tragi-comedy that came out in 2017, and was considered by many to be one of the truly superlative films of the past year.
If you have missed Sally Potter’s films, and are a cinema person, you must go back and find them. Potter is an artist (trained in dance, theater, and cinema), who happens to practice largely in the cinematic medium. Over the years, she has become legendary for her complex and captivating films that include classics like Orlando (1992), and The Tango Lesson (1997) – to name two.
Last year, Potter released this intimate, seven actor only, living room drama starring the cream of thespians, her fellow British compatriots that include Timothy Spall, Kristen Scott-Thomas, Emily Mortimer, and Cillian Murphy.
The film, a tense, darkly comic drama, centres around a special lunch that is arranged by Kristen Scott Thomas’s character, Janet, who has just been appointed to the post of shadow Minister of Health.
Her husband, Bill, played by Timothy Spall, sits in their living room playing records as Janet prepares her celebratory lunch, and fields congratulatory phone calls from friends, acquaintances, and her secret lover.
As their friends arrive, the tight knit group talk about their ideologies, beliefs and hopes for the country now that Janet is in a position to make a difference, and field kitchen fires, home fires, and many other crises that emerge moment after moment, putting everyone on edge, and necessitating nail biting nervous laughter from the viewers.
This is the sort of writing that one might expect from the famous Irish playwright turned film-maker Martin McDonagh, but Potter, who wrote the screenplay singlehandedly proves to be adept at yoking together humour and tragedy, giving backbone to the film that another more superficial writer-director would have failed at.
The film, shot entirely in black and white, within the confines of the seven-person ensemble, and Janet and Bill’s lower ground floor home, is almost more suited for the stage than cinema. Yet the antics of these brilliant actors blossom in front of the camera, and the film comes to life, leaving all of us wondering what the heck is going on, and how things might end –making for a truly refreshing film from the mind of one of the great art-house directors of our time.