Lars von Trier’s latest film takes inspiration from the titular nursery rhyme. The phrase ‘The House that Jack Built’ can have a few different meanings – it is often used as shorthand for a shoddy project or build, and it can also refer to a never-ending endeavour with constant add-ons, often in repeating patterns. Von Trier’s film combines both: it is a shoddy project resulting in two and a half hours of a seemingly never-ending, repetitive tale that fails to excite or even shock.
Sally Potter has a history of making arty films dating back to her best-known work Orlando (1992), though she made her first super 8 film at the age of just fourteen. The Party is a low budget, black and white affair shot in a fortnight and restricted to just seven characters. The film works because Sally Potter’s script has a keen eye for middle class hypocrisy and pretentiousness, the sharp lines delivered by a classy cast.
The movie opens with introducing Zev Guttman (Christopher Plummer). He lives in a nursing home, where he and his friend Max Rosenbaum (Martin Landau) have made a pact. They are both holocaust survivors and since Max is too weak to leave the home, Zev will track down and kill the man they hold responsible for mudering their families in Auschwitz. This man is Rudy Kurlander.
Stellan Skarsgård plays snowplow driver Nils, who one day finds out his son has died – seemingly of a drug overdose. But Nils knows his son does not do drugs, yet the local police consider the case closed. A tale of revenge follows…