Sally Potter is a prodigious, protean chameleon, a truly independent spirit and filmmaker whose small, precious body of work dazzles with both elegant finery and elemental emotion. Potter is appreciated, but not as much as she could be. Spoken of mostly in terms of the low-budget phantasmagorical centuries-and-gender traipsing “Orlando” (1992), which brought Derek Jarman’s friend and icon Tilda Swinton to a larger sphere, Potter’s filmography has been both esthetically and fiscally elastic, primal yet lovingly detailed, containing sly, minimalist teenage girlhood stories like “Ginger & Rosa” (2012) and the no-budget, shot-for-internet, pocket-sized fashion “Rage” (2009).
With the splendid drawing-room black comedy “The Party,” shot at the run-up to the nihilist Brexit referendum, Potter finds a medium of satire and belly laughs in seventy swift minutes, shot in black-and-white, etched in vitriol, shot in the confines of her own longtime London townhouse in under two weeks. The agile, lovingly choreographed camera accompanies deliciously measured performances by Patricia Clarkson, Kristin Scott Thomas, Bruno Ganz, Cherry Jones, Emily Mortimer, Cillian Murphy and Timothy Spall, avoiding any reek of undigested theatricality.
Like Mike Leigh’s immortal “Abigail’s Party” (1977), “The Party” takes the jewel setting of a dinner and thrives on the terrifying splendor of the darkest reaches of the characters’ hearts and hopes of retaining social standing. (Cue also Mr. Albee and Sr. Buñuel.) Champagne and red wine and name-calling and backbiting and multiple bombshells and a conspicuous Chekhov-worthy gun move toward pleasing farcical complication. Music played as proper bourgeois dinner-party accompaniment, on vinyl, includes Bo Diddley, John Coltrane and Albert Ayler. 71m. (Ray Pride)
“The Party” opens Friday, February 23 at River East, Landmark Century, Century Evanston.
Ray Pride is Newcity film critic and a contributing editor of Filmmaker magazine. He is also a photographer: his history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images is forthcoming. Previews on Twitter (twitter.com/chighostsigns) as well as daily photography on Instagram: instagram.com/raypride. Twitter: twitter.com/RayPride. (Photo: Jorge Colombo.)