Saturday, 16 August 2014

The Party and the Guests (Jan Nemec, 1966)

(A three-way conversational review of Jan Nemec's absurdist theatrical satire on enforced one-party politics, The Party and the Guests. The review is in the spirit of Nemec's statement, 'If, from the first scene, it is apparent that any superficial resemblance to reality is not important at all, the audience will give up their favourite comparisons and concentrate on what the director really tries to convey. Written in 2007.)

 - Now we can talk. Speak for a while, it can do no harm.
 - Yes, now you should listen. You see, this man...this Nemec, along with his friends, they made a sort of joke, a satire about the system with which we were trying to shape our country into something...effective. Together, they made, really, something unwholesome, something that criticized, made mock.
 - So?
 - What do you mean, ‘so’? It was a deviant piece of work, wholly decadent and reliant on imported forms of absurd entertainment. They were laughing at us.
 - I didn't see much laughter in the film.
 - Well that's the point you see, it was the wrong kind of laughter. It wasn't funny laughter, it was a needling kind of work.
 - Really.
 - Yes. I mean look at the actors. Who is this Rudolf in his plus fours? He is an imbecile -  a petulant, smirking, ingratiating child. And who is this man in charge, the one who resembles a dumpy Lenin? This is not constructive humour. And then to make some kind of a dissident hero out of that other filmmaker, that Schorm man, who does nothing in the film but look sceptical and disappear…well, I think you see my point.
 - You're on the wrong track.
 - How so? Look at that simpleton Rudolf again with his barrel-organ, mocking a military parade, or those caricatures of heavies who can’t even put a desk up the right way round. At least there were one or two lines of truth in the film, but that is all: 'People belong to people'; 'One for all and all for one.'

- If I could just interject...I find those statements rather ambivalent, even threatening, in the context of the film, especially the latter. Actually, if you don't mind me taking a little of your time I think it would be useful to point out a few of the meaningful characteristics of the film while I'm here. For instance, did you notice Straw Hat - Pepa - stroking his chin early on, after the guests have been rounded up, copying the gesture from Leather Hat, the man from the secret police? This is what is at the heart of the film. Forget the words that are said and watch the people. That conversation about the birds between Pepa and Rudolf - highly symbolic of the way one learns a new language - a language that uses the same words, the same gestures and the same intonation as normal language, but which carries no meaning whatsoever except the sole requirement that the words should be agreed with. It makes me think of that conversation between Winston and O'Brien in the Ministry of Love in Orwell's 1984, when Winston is adamant that two and two are four. Says O’Brien: ‘Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder. it’s not easy to become sane.’

- Can't you make him shut up?
 - Leave him be, he'll blow himself out soon.

- Also, it has often been remarked how all the comments between the guests in the idyllic first scene are banal, with no-one really listening to one another (they recall to me the dinner-party conversations based on advertising slogans from Godard's Pierrot le Fou - a very different context but a similar effect), but there are hints there even among the non sequiturs at how a system can take hold in a populace that desires order but relinquishes its involvement. These symbolic hints occur later too, after the charades with Rudolf, as the guests walk down through the wood, and the Host mentions such aggrandising schemes as improbably massive commemorative sculptures ('I want this rock for a garden') and inappropriate schemes on a similar scale, such as turning a wood into a playing field.

- Have you finished?

- No, not quite, I must say something about the candelabras – is this the only film in which candelabras are mentioned as a veiled threat? And the ending is chilling, with all of those candles being snuffed out one by one – by ordinary people as well as members of the secret service – as the sound of snarling dogs takes over the soundtrack. In a way it reminds me of the ending in Karel Kachyna's The Ear, made four years later and also long banned, where it is made clear exactly the process by which you gain control over someone in a position of power.

- Are you done now?

- Yes.

- Good. Have some flan. You know, I'm sure all that's in there but frankly I've forgotten most of it. Actually, I only have one thing to say now. What does ‘banned forever’ mean? I'm only asking, it's a good phrase, you see. I like it. It's a big selling point these days. And who knows, the film may come in useful all over again. Things can change very quickly you know, in the middle of a pleasant afternoon picnic among friends maybe, two bottles to the good and drowsy with the heat. Anyway, for now, have some chicken. It's cooked - right to the bone. You’ll see.

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