MOVIE REVIEW: THE PARTY (Dir: Sally Potter, BBC Films, B&W 71 mins)
Sally Potter’s first full length film since 2012’s acclaimed Ginger & Rosa is a monochrome background to an in-colour story of a troubled man sighing his way through a bunch of genuinely awful middle-class people spilling wine while pretending they’ve never heard of Harold Pinter.
The main protagonist’s inner monologue is left to the viewer’s imagination and yet is communicated clearly with his constant head shaking and his backward glances at the cinema patrons to find out where the laughter is coming from and why.
This tale of isolation and confusion carries on until the closing credits but, due to us living in a populist, popcorn-selling, post-Marvel world, the narrative continues with an extra scene featuring the dishevelled and exhausted figure making his way from the cinema to the bus stop, joining other cinema goers in the queue. This is where the story takes a dark and horrific turn.
The bus queue is made of six or seven blank canvas characters put in place to show the value of the anonymous in social situations, a true juxtaposition to the wine-spilling, shrill, Mark Rothko print owning “cunts” observed by the unfortunate, grey-skinned figure throughout the previous 75 minutes. “Mercifully brief”, he texts to a far-away friend before coughing. The distance of the friend is highlighted tragically in the next few minutes as one of the anonymous lifts his compulsory mask and turns to face the queue to reveal himself as the story’s villain. “Were you all just in the cinema just now too?”, he beams at the silent non-faces.
Fear is now the theme of the piece. Has someone actually spoken to us, the masks seem to ask with their mute body language. Unable to understand totally normal practices at a fucking bus stop, the arrogant offender continues: “Good, wasn’t it?”, he says with all the confidence of a man who happily has no idea what the word good means. “It reminded me of Sartre’s Huis Clos”.
The masks remained silent and afraid while this embodiment of evil and ignorance awaits a response that would never come save for the grey-skinned protagonist’s rolling eyes and the truly moving feeling of “Did he actually just use the fucking French title of No Exit? What a fucking cunt. He’s fucking turning round and talking to us and he thinks he’s the only cunt who’s ever heard of fucking Sartre. The cunting cunt cunt”. That feeling is made even more poignant by the masks’ utter refusal to acknowledge the toxic weasel’s wank ejaculating from the villain’s pointless head hole. The agreed upon silence is broken yet again with the villain's agonisingly plummy noise genuinely offering “You know? Hell is other people?”
The protagonist laughs and turns his back on the villain while the masks stay in their plant pots. “Hell is other people”, says the villain again but this time directly to the protagonist. “Hell is other people. Sartre?”
“Mate.”, the protagonist utters his first words of the piece. “No one wants to talk. People just want to go home”
The villain plays his vicious devil card once again: “I’m just trying to be frie…”
“No. You aren’t”, the protagonist is prepared to end the torment for good. “You’re not trying to be friendly. You wouldn’t have started up a conversation with people who clearly didn’t want to talk if you were being friendly. And you wouldn’t have brought up Sartre like that if you were just trying to be friendly. The French title? Jesus. And we just saw the film, so we know what it was like. Pointing out hell is other people after we’ve just seen that film is like us seeing Jaws and you pointing out that it was probably about a shark or something.”
“But…”, says the villain.
“And who the fuck quotes Sartre to a bus queue anyway? I just don’t believe you think that was ‘a bit Sartre’. I think you’ve seen that somewhere, liked it and tried to pass it off as your own just to be popular here. Because who in their right mind would ever come off with something so clearly obvious and try to pass it off as their own?”
The self-referential description of Potter’s black and white (mainly white) segment of the piece is simply the set-up for the protagonist’s killer blow: “And, seriously, who says hell is other people to a bunch of complete strangers waiting for a bus in the cold? Who references Sartre and hell is other people when they clearly don’t understand it?”
Silence is restored but the sound has been replaced with a feeling of utter discomfort from everyone but the deluded protagonist who believes he has made a stand against the smug. He did not buy into the wine-spilling lives of the awful plagiarists and he made it clear that he would not buy into the forced friendliness of the villain. The evil, lying villain who dared talk at a bus stop.
The Party experience then closes with the protagonist alone in bed smiling to himself. He thinks back to the evening past and his victory over unnecessary warmth at a bus stop. Hell is other people indeed, he thinks as he turns out the light.
The darkness is the only truth of the piece. And the protagonist knows this as his inability to sleep proves while the evening replays continuously inside his roomy skull. Hell is other people? Or is it being alone in the dark realising exactly who you are?