And now for something completely different: The Party, a tidily caustic 71-minute politically-charged dark comedy. It conveys both the tense horror of attending most American familial holiday gatherings these days and the vicious bite of Mike Nichol’s version of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, down to a book-stacked middle-class abode and the classic black and white cinematography. A fox that creeps by open patio doors functions as a predictor — much like its cousin in Antichrist – that chaos will soon reign. Continue reading…
Iconoclast British filmmaker Sally Potter, our hostess behind the scenes, serves up a compact arsenic-spiked punch that begins with a disheveled Kristen Scott Thomas, our London-based hostess, opening her front door and shakily pointing a gun at the camera. We next see her fully composed, merrily preparing to celebrate her win as a government health minister while fixing food and drink for guests who are soon to materialize — all the while surreptitiously chatting on her cell phone to an obvious undercover lover.
There is a delicious international buffet of actors on display, starting with Timothy Spall as Thomas’ shell-shocked spouse who has barricaded himself emotionally with wine and an eclectic array of vintage vinyl recordings, starting with the bluesy “I’m a Man.” First to walk in is best friend and steadfast cynic Patricia Clarkson, who gets all the best lines and delivers them with piquant panache, such as this one aimed at her German beau and touchy-feely life coach Bruno Ganz: “Tickle an aroma therapist and you find a fascist.”
Next up: Middle-aged feminist academic Cherry Jones and lesbian partner Emily Mortimer, pleased to announce they are going to have triplets. Last but not least is Cillian Murphy, a so-called “wanker banker” who arrives in a jittery sweat given the arsenal of cocaine in his system but without his wife. In quick measure, glass is broken, bodily fluids in the form of blood, barf and tears are shed, canapes are burnt and violence breaks out as Spall comes out of his stupor long enough to drop the first of several verbal bombshells.
Potter pulls off the neat trick of both making us feel for these individuals and their conflicting ideals as well as pity them as they hold fast to their beliefs yet not to the people they claim to care for. It is increasingly difficult of late to slot human beings into categories of heroes and villains, including in films, given the divisiveness in the air. Thank goodness a sharp observer like Potter exists to pull off such a tricky farce with such finely finessed brevity.
EDITOR’S NOTE: A Fantastic Woman is AWFJ’s Movie of the Week