Sally Potter’s The Party offers a glimpse into the breakdown of middle-class life and a world knocked off kilter; a fox sniffs at open french doors, erratic jazz music blares throughout the house as vol-au-vents burn.
This film both captures the spirit of British (sur)realism and political satire whilst standing totally apart; it’s a whirlwind of absurdity, irony and farce, yet frequently politically charged – though details are only alluded to, such as Janet’s (Kristin Scott Thomas) opposition party; a GP waiting list is mentioned, the causes for it are not.
The Party is deceptively subtle, from it’s utterly stripped back opening credits and use of a single location and restricted time frame to the breakneck pace at which the narrative unfolds and returns the audience to exactly where we began, creating the impression of an endlessly repeating nightmare. Yet, underneath this simplicity, the heart of the film is excess, both visual and thematic. The constant, occasionally inappropriate, music builds up until it is nearly a character in itself, heightening the feeling of disorder. All tension seems to become palpable; Tom’s (Cillian Murphy) blistering paranoia and April’s (Patricia Clarkson) scathing cynicism, spills out into the garden where Martha (Cherry Jones) grapples with the idea of excess, joking that her wife’s announcement of triplets will make them a ‘collective’. The razor-sharp humour of this tragicomedy serves as both a relief to the increasing sense claustrophobia, whilst also highlighting Potter’s dexterity as a writer.
Meanwhile, black and white editing and minimal set design prevents any distraction from the characters, but carries with it its own preconceptions of stylistic excess. As April in her black dress and red lipstick appears to embody the conventional femme fatale, Janet teeters on the edge of truly becoming one. Black and white also allows for Potter to explore the theme of moral ambiguity, addressing characters with a hazy ambivalence through soft focus close shots.
The Party is a heavily stylised yet biting satire with an arsenal of one-liners. Most importantly, though, it is a subtle critique of the British bourgeoisie and the fragility and unsustainability of their lifestyles.
Hannah Jackson is an English literature student at the University of Sheffield with an interest in film and feminist criticism. When she is not studying, she can be found acting as the chief projectionist at an independent cinema.