“Banned forever” in Czechoslovakia, The Party and The Guests (O Slavnosti a Hostech, sometimes A Report on The Party and The Guests) is the second feature film from New Wave Praguian Jan Němec. A provocative attack on the pitfalls of the communist state, it’s an absurd take on the Mad Hatter’s tea party, and we’re all invited. But, for Novotný’s sake, don’t be late.
More chatty than his dour, war critique debut Diamonds of the Night, Němec and his co-writer/wife Ester Krumbachová are still unafraid to produce a film of intent. Three couples head out to the woods for a sunny weekend picnic and find themselves accosted by a group of eccentric, extravagantly dressed men. Led by the frisky, almost Puck-like Rudolf (Jan Klusák), the couples are forced to act out bizarre trials for his sadistic amusement, until they are reprimanded by the real leader of the group, who invites the tortured couples to a paganistic banquet in the woods.
While that dirty word ‘communism’ never crosses any of the character’s lips, Němec’s film is a scathing allegory on oppression and rivalling the autonomous regime. As a predecessor to Luis Buñuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, the daring Czech filmmaker toys with notions of melodrama and theatrics, going from one delectably silly scene to the next, dealing with the weighty undertones as a frivolous comedy of manners.
Although some of the satirical content may not have the same degree of poignancy it did back in 1966, The Party and The Guests retains enough of it’s original bite to keep contemporary audiences amused.
PS – A lovely bit of contextual criticism on the film here from Slovak Cinema theorist Peter Hames.