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Film review: The Party

Sally Potter's latest is fierce and funny.

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Kristin Scott Thomas takes a call in The Party.
  • Kristin Scott Thomas takes a call in The Party.

Sally Potter’s fierce and funny The Party, shot in sharp black and white with a total run time of 71 minutes (bless), moves and feels like a one-act play. Its stars an international slate of actors, as many films do, but the members of this small cast—Kristin Scott Thomas, Timothy Spall and Emily Mortimer (British), Cillian Murphy (Irish), Cherry Jones and Patricia Clarkson (American) and Bruno Ganz (Swiss)—speak in their own accents; the movie is set in London, nearly all characters’ nationality comes into play for one reason or another. (Ganz is the exception; his Gottfried is a German.) 

Janet (Scott Thomas, who is everywhere this year, delightfully) has just been named minister of health in the British parliament and this dinner party is a celebration. Except her husband Bill (Spall) has two announcements: He’s terminally ill, and he’s leaving her. Over an impressively short hour, the various connections amongst these friends—highbrow, well-off intellectuals mostly—and the secrets they’re all holding, for themselves and each other, come spilling out. And this is after the opening frame of Scott Thomas pointing a gun at an unseen target.

Potter, whose last film was 2012’s Ginger and Rosa with Elle Fanning, is an impossible-to-pin-down filmmaker, thrillingly experimental and deeply invested in the intimacy of relationships. The Party’s wackier moments—it’s being marketed as a farce, but that’s not quite right—are underscored by deft social commentary about class structure and systems that comes off as naturally and breezily as conversations about babies and music. It may appear slight, but it’ll stay with you.