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Berlinale: Sally Potter Takes a ‘Loving Look’ at a ‘Broken England’

In her biting political comedy “The Party,” which bowed in competition Monday at the Berlinale, writer-director Sally Potter sought to present “a loving look at the state of England, a kind of broken England.”

Kristin Scott Thomas, Timothy Spall, Patricia Clarkson, Bruno Ganz and Cillian Murphy star in the film, which revolves around a house party to celebrate the appointment Scott Thomas’s character Janet as a minister in Britain’s shadow cabinet – only for chaos to ensue.

Potter told reporters at the Berlin Film Festival that she wrote the dialogue to focus on “what people don’t say or feel they can’t say,” while the film’s black-and-white palette offered “an incredible space for emotional color – the magic that the brain can see things in different ways, in this abstract world of light and dark. Many of my favorite films are in black and white, and I’d like to think it’s in that lineage.”

Potter said she began writing the film during the last elections in Britain, when the Labor Party was moving so far to the center that it was almost indistinguishable from the Conservatives. Now, by contrast, Labor has swung far in the other direction.

“People were losing their faith in political life, losing the ability to tell what the truth is. The truth is very central to the story,” Potter said. “We were filming during the Brexit vote, as the events unfolded. The day after [the June 23, 2016, referendum], half the people on set had tears in their eyes. The film is also about the healing power of laughter when things go horribly wrong.”

On working with her high-caliber cast, Potter said it was about “loving and caring for what they do, teasing it out of them to go in the direction I want to go but also respecting where they want to go. It’s the magic of collaboration.”

Clarkson added: “The camaraderie we had carried us through the wickedness of these characters. We enjoyed a great deal of humor among ourselves; we really fell in love with one another. It was a real privilege.”

Asked whom he preferred, Harry Potter or Sally Potter, Spall replied: “Without denigrating H. Potter, S. Potter is always more preferable. Collaborating, working with someone you admire, someone whose work is always changing, is wonderful. All of Sally’s films are so incredibly different. It’s a real joy. Without putting on any pretentious color, it is very artistic work – definitely Sally Potter all the way.”

Scott Thomas echoed the sentiment, but added that the initial challenge of the film caused some nervousness. “It was like doing a play. There was panic knowing that we only had two weeks to shoot it and no time for multiple takes. But it was one of most memorable filming experiences I’ve ever had.”

Murphy was likewise thrilled with the project. “It was great fun. I was really attracted by the deliberate misdirection of the script. He [Murphy’s character, Tom] doesn’t look mentally well. For any actor, to start a part in one place and then end up somewhere completely different is really wonderful. That really appealed to me.

“When I saw the cast that Sally had gathered, it was obviously a no-brainer,” Murphy added. “I’ve watched and have been a fan of these people since I was very young. You’re always learning as an actor, it never stops, and it was a real joy to watch these actors work.”

Ganz, who plays Gottfried, an esoteric German yoga aficionado, said the film was a chance to “make Madame Merkel happy by playing a good German in a film,” the Swiss actor deadpanned.

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