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dir-scr Sally Potter
prd Kurban Kassam, Christopher Sheppard
with Kristin Scott Thomas, Patricia Clarkson, Timothy Spall, Cherry Jones, Emily Mortimer, Cillian Murphy, Bruno Ganz
release UK 29.Sep.17
Who's for dinner: Clarkson and Scott Thomas
BERLIN FILM FEST
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E|
A pitch-black comedy packed with equal measures of awkward irony and brittle tragedy, Sally Potter's offbeat film is like a stage play filmed for the big screen. Photographed in black and white with expressionistic lighting and editing that makes it feel almost like a feature-length Twilight Zone episode, it's a rampaging trawl through politics and social connections. It's also deceptively light, but carries a piercing sting.
After being appointed a government minister, Janet (Scott Thomas) is preparing a dinner party for some friends. Her husband Bill (Spall) is so sozzled that he's only good for picking out jazz records to play. First to arrive are straight-shooting best friend April (Clarkson) and her philosophical German boyfriend Gottfried (Ganz). Then feminist professor Martha (Jones) and her pregnant girlfriend Jinny (Mortimer). And finally the frazzled banker Tom (Murphy) turns up, explaining that his wife is running late. Over the course of the evening, a variety of secrets are revealed that rattle everyone.
The action takes place in the living room, plus occasional moments in the kitchen, bathroom and back yard. The claustrophobic setting is superbly designed to keep characters too close for comfort, while Aleksei Rodionov's cinematography centres on the actors expressive faces in deliberately harsh light. With the music gyrating on the turntable, the film feels almost like it was made in the 1950s, with themes that are timely even as story is anchored in present-day Britain.
Scott Thomas is on peak form, laughing vacantly at every congratulatory phone call, then slyly whispering messages when her secret lover rings. She's clearly so happy with herself that she hasn't noticed her husband apparently drinking himself to death. Spall is terrific as a shattered man with a secret of his own that will shake the assembled crowd beyond the breaking point. Each actor injects energy, humour and rather desperate emotion into his or her role. And Clarkson steals the show with the most lacerating dialog.
What the film has to say about public faces and private reality is actually rather profound, but we're having far too much fun with Potter's riotously witty touches to notice quite how deeply she's plunging the knife. This is a story about a group of people who think they are in control of every element of their lives, and they're about to realise that they have no idea who has the the real power. There isn't a message here, aside from perhaps that it might be better to actually care about each other. But it definitely leaves us thinking. Once we stop laughing.
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© 2017 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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