The Party is a small private party held for political party member Kristin Scott Thomas, just appointed (elected?) minister of health – so I thought there’d be more political stuff, but if so, I missed it. The seven people onscreen represent five couples, only two of which are still – tentatively – still together at the end, with an offscreen eighth participant (it’s us! we’re implicated!) possibly about to get murdered in the final shot.

Kristin’s husband Timothy Spall acts comatose for half the film (amusingly so – he’s the most magnetic actor here, usually because he’s doing the least), finally blurts out that he’s been given a death sentence by his doctor and is leaving his wife to spend the rest of his short life with his girlfriend, the wife of Cillian Murphy, a coked-up banker who arrived with a gun to kill Spall having just found out of the affair. Emily Mortimer is pregnant with triplets, and her partner Cherry Jones seems hesitant about parenthood. Cherry also once slept with Spall (over 30 years ago, big deal). KST’s best friend Patricia Clarkson sits on the sidelines sniping at everyone, especially her soon-to-be-ex boyfriend Bruno Ganz, a weirdo “whole body healer”. And this is all… too much. Too many revelations and coincidences and big collisions for a 70-minute movie to contain without seeming overly contrived. Potter and her overqualified cinematographer Aleksei Rodionov shoot some striking black-and-white images in the intro, then there’s no time for more, since they’ve gotta run around following the actors’ mayhem. At least the actors don’t devolve into hysterics, so the thing holds up better than these things sometimes do.

Felt like a good time to watch this since I’d recently seen Purple Noon, and The American Friend is more or less a sequel. I don’t know how things worked in the book series, but besides some art forgery at the beginning, I’d easily believe that they’re unrelated and Dennis Hopper’s character just happens to be named Tom Ripley.

Movie connection #2: Joe vs. the Volcano. Bruno Ganz, who’s the real star of the film over Ripley/Hopper, is sick and short on money, but it turns out his doctor is exaggerating Bruno’s health problems so he’ll be desperate enough to accept a mission as assassin. This despite the fact that Bruno works in a frame shop and is not normally a killer (naturally, the working title was Framed).

Bruno, making it literal:

Movie connection #3: Barton Fink. Bruno takes an instant dislike to Hopper at a (fraudulent) art auction at the beginning, refuses to shake his hand. At the end, Hopper confesses this is why Hopper put Bruno through it all, the doomed medical prognosis and three murders.

Movie connection #4: Rushmore, via the Kinks song “Nothing In This World Can Stop Me Worryin’ ’bout That Girl”.

Cool movie, with real suspense to the spy/murder proceedings, and a visual theme of magic lanterns and other illusions. Terrific lighting, color and cinematography (by Robby Müller, natch), as far as I could tell on my DVD copy. And of course it features both Nicholas Ray (as Hopper’s painter of fakes) and Samuel Fuller (as head target “The American”, eventually thrown down stone stairs).

Ray:

Fuller:

Hopper:

Can’t say I fully understood Ripley’s involvement in the whole plot, nor why Bruno has to die at the end (Wenders loves when everyone dies at the end). Ebert says it’s not important. Dave Kehr says that’s the whole idea: “The plot, laid out baldly, gives only a thin impression of the film itself. For one thing, Wenders has systematically eliminated most of the purely expository scenes (purposefully, after shooting them). … We already know the story, having seen its variations in a hundred films.”

Film Quarterly says it cost more than Wenders’s previous five films combined. Won best editing and direction in Germany and played at Cannes along with 3 Women, The Duellists and Padre Padrone.

Hopper’s follow-up to Apocalypse Now, which wouldn’t be released for two more years. Bruno was between The Marquise of O and Nosferatu. As his wife: Lisa Kreuzer of Radio On and Alice in the Cities. Gerard Blain (star of Chabrol’s Les Cousins and Le Beau Serge) is the guy who gives Bruno his assignment, and Lou Castel (star of Fists in the Pocket and Beware of a Holy Whore) is his driver/overseer. Semi-remade a couple times, once with Malkovich as Ripley and once with Barry Pepper.

A strangely excellent movie – beautifully shot and performed. It’s very straightforward, plot-wise. The central mystery is set up in the first scene (taking place at Cafe Exposition, populated by extras filling each other in on backstory), and the movie spends the rest of its runtime dropping hints as to the solution to the central mystery, until finally even people like me, who don’t try to guess the endings to movies, know very well what’s going to happen. The NY Times considered it obvious enough to reveal the answer outright in their original review. But somehow that didn’t keep me from loving the movie, more than Perceval to be sure. One complaint: the title made Katy think of the Marquis de Sade, and made me think of The Story of O – so the movie should have been far sexier than it was.

The story was written in the early 1800’s and set in Germany, so of course Rohmer makes a German film that looks like it is happening in the early 1800’s, with a Barry Lyndon level of attention to light and costume. The Marquise (Edith Clever of a couple Hans-Jurgen Syberberg movies) is rescued from Russian marauders by their commander Bruno Ganz (not long before starring in Herzog’s Nosferatu). She is given sleeping pills after her ordeal, and the family is ever grateful to Ganz. Thing is, he’s now strangely, hurriedly insistent on marrying the Marquise, and she soon realizes she is pregnant.

Bruno makes an awesome entrance:

It becomes increasingly obvious to the viewer that Ganz knocked her up while she slept from the pills and is trying to run damage control, but this never occurs to the Marquise or her family until he admits it in the final scene. Instead, her mother tries to pin it on faithful servant Leopardo, while her father shuts his ears and bans her from setting foot in the house again.

Rohmer himself stands distractingly against the wall:

A super talky movie, of course, but possibly my favorite so far of Rohmer’s. Intertitles and fade outs at the end of scenes provide what little stylization is allowed into the movie. It’s funny to me that in the last line of the movie the marquise calls Bruno an angel – he and the actor playing her brother (Otto Sander) would later co-star as angels in Wings of Desire and Faraway So Close.