The Party and the Guests

English Title: The Party and the Guests

Original Title: O slavnosti a hostech

Country of Origin: Czechoslovakia

Studio: Filmové Studio Barrandov

Director: Jan Němec

Producer(s): Ladislav Kalas

Screenplay: Jan Němec

Cinematographer: Jaromír Šofr

Art Director: Oldřich Bosák

Editor: Miroslav Hájek

Runtime: 71 minutes

Genre: Drama/Surrealist

Language: Czech

Starring/Cast: Jan Klusák, Ivan Vyskočil, Pavel Bosek, Karel Mares, Helena Pejsková

Year: 1966

Volume: East European

Synopsis:

Several guests have been invited to a banquet by a lake in the hills. On their way to the party they stop for a picnic, but their good spirits are quickly tested by a group of men who roughly escort them to a clearing in the woods. These thuggish men seem to operate like a secret police, and the leader, a strange and impishly evil man named Rudolph, interrogates them. The guests are toyed with, examined, and provoked in what seems to be an experiment in power and obedience. The guests react in variety of ways to this treatment. The real boss then turns up and the banquet commences.


Critique:

Jan Němec’s second feature, O slavnosti a hostech/The Party and the Guests is a film about mischief – political, personal, brutal, and possibly lethal. It is also a film that is itself mischievous: an absurdist fable that deals in dreamlike imagery and playfully theatrical situations; and for this it is often read as a straightforward political allegory of communism in Czechoslovakia, one that is critical of the ruling regime of the time. Indeed, it is primarily for this reason that it was famously ‘banned forever’ following the Soviet invasion of the country in 1968. This interpretation is valid to a certain degree, but Němec has been keen to assert that it is a more universal than specific allegory, one that applies to any time and place where a ruling ‘Mafia’ is in power and in which subjects are (explicitly or implicitly) subjugated.

 

The Party and the Guests is a film full of talking, where the role of speech is more important than anything that is said. Speech becomes just another part of the elaborate game that is played between those in power and the people they would rule (that is, amongst the guests themselves), as their compliance is cemented by a fast trade in meaningless statements. Jan Klusák’s remarkable presence as the child-like, sadistic Rudolph is just one of a number of memorable, enigmatic performances that flesh out a series of façades and surfaces, attitudes and postures, which stand in for characters. That is, we learn very little about any of the characters and merely have their actions, or more properly their reactions, to gauge their precise nature.

 

The rest of the cast is largely made up of Němec’s friends and colleagues, a veritable who’s who of the Prague intelligentsia of the time. And this, coupled with its widespread interpretation as critical allegory, positioned The Party and the Guests as a statement film; a declaration on behalf of the country’s cultural and artistic elite at an extremely volatile point in Czechoslovak history. Indeed, the film’s perceived status as a work of unfiltered bourgeois elitist art cinema was one the main grounds for its ban. These claims for intellectualism and high brow snobbery, however, do not take away from the fact that it is a concise and tightly focused film that does work much in the way that Němec envisioned. At just over an hour long it is necessarily sparse and narratively very minimalist, a fact that means its allegorical force remains largely unspecific, with its ruminations on power, obedience, conformity and fear thus gaining wider and longer lasting universal significance beyond the historical moment of its production.

Author of this review: Michael Pigott