Brexit satire draws big laughs at Berlin fest

Actors (from left) Timothy Spall, Bruno Ganz, Kristin Scott Thomas and Cillian Murphy, director Sally Potter and actress Patricia Clarkson arriving for the screening of The Party in Berlin on Monday.
Actors (from left) Timothy Spall, Bruno Ganz, Kristin Scott Thomas and Cillian Murphy, director Sally Potter and actress Patricia Clarkson arriving for the screening of The Party in Berlin on Monday.PHOTO: REUTERS

BERLIN • An uproarious British satire shot during the Brexit referendum drew big laughs at the Berlin film festival on Monday, with director Sally Potter using a stellar cast for "a light and loving look" at a "broken England".

In The Party, shot in black and white, Kristin Scott Thomas plays Janet, a British MP who has just become health minister and throws a soiree with her husband (Timothy Spall) and closest friends to celebrate. Her clique is a well-heeled international set including April, an acerbic American (Patricia Clarkson) living in London who declares parliamentary politics to be "finished", but nevertheless believes that the new minister can "save our country from profiteering butchery".

Her German lover (Bruno Ganz) is a "life coach and healer" who dismisses Western medicine as "voodoo".

Another friend of the family is an agitated City "wanker banker" from Ireland (Cillian Murphy), who slips away to the toilet as soon as he arrives to snort cocaine and fiddle with the handgun he has hidden in his jacket. Finally, a lesbian couple, separated in age by two decades, arrives with the younger partner (Emily Mortimer) announcing that she is pregnant with male triplets.

In the course of a little more than a whirlwind hour, secrets and lies are exposed, marriages and lives shattered and careers left teetering on the brink.

Potter told reporters after a press preview which drew warm applause that she had started writing the screenplay during the 2015 British general election, but did not shoot it until the week before and after the Brexit vote.

"Things have become polarised since I started writing, but what was central to it was the feeling that people were losing faith in political life, losing the ability to even know what the truth was," she said.

"That's why truth-telling is so central to the politics in this story, all kinds of truth-telling in personal life and in political life."

Asked about the cosmopolitan cast and crew, she said it was clear that the themes of disaffection and a loss of faith in public officials resonated far beyond Britain.

"I wanted a feeling on both sides of the camera of internationalism - the opposite of the dynamic of Brexit, by the way," she said.

"And Trump," Clarkson added.

Janet, as an ambitious, highly competent middle-aged blonde politician with trouble connecting with voters and a cheating husband named Bill, seems tragically, comically doomed.

April advises her during one scene. "If you're going to lead this country, and you must," she says, "you're going to have to change your hair."

Potter is best known for films such as Orlando (1992) and Ginger & Rosa (2012). She is also a sought-after opera director.

She said that while she was pessimistic about the impact of Brexit, despair was not the answer.

"Sometimes, the most positive thing to do is to look bad stuff in the face and laugh about it," she said.

The Party is one of 18 movies vying for the festival's Golden Bear top prize, to be awarded on Saturday. Potter is one of four female directors in the competition.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 15, 2017, with the headline 'Brexit satire draws big laughs at Berlin fest'. Print Edition | Subscribe