Tag Archives: Beatriz at Dinner

The Party (2018): High-class Soap Opera

In honor of her newfound appointment as the Minister of Health, Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas; Only God Forgives), celebrates by hosting a party. She invites her closest friends including Patricia Clarkson, Bruno Ganz, and Cillian Murphy, along with her husband played by Timothy Spall. What starts off as an innocent night of dinner and drinks erupts into chaos as we learn more about the secrets beneath their posh appearance and the party becomes a night to remember.

The black and white cinematography is adequate, but nothing more. Too often movies without color are automatically praised for their visuals when in reality they are merely passable. Small-scale independent movies like The Party tend to be shot in black and white for practical reasons rather than artistic ones. The choice to remove color hides the flaws of cheap lighting and enables quicker setups which was likely a major factor in director Sally Potter’s decision. The look of the film doesn’t compare to great black and white cinematography seen in movies like The Third Man, but it may not need to. The aesthetic hides the film’s budget limitations and adds to its deliberately cultured appearance that will no doubt ingratiate it to its intended audience.

Ganz’s free spirit is a great contrast to the rest of the cast.

The dialogue and setup initially feel pretentious. The characters are professors, politicians, and other forms of self-professed intellectuals and the dialogue never lets you forget it. Potter’s script often feels overwritten with needlessly verbose language. The word choice and the pompous way lines are delivered can be highfalutin and grating when the characters are first introduced. Clarkson’s constant eyerolling and dismissive tone are particularly irritating as she judges others under her breath. This snobbish behavior creates a distancing effect that prevents the film from building traction early on. Eventually, the characters become relatable as the plot twists are introduced, but the pompous air makes the first half of this short 77-minute movie feel much longer than desired.

Potter’s film is essentially a chamber play. The story is confined to a few rooms in one setting and the action is dialogue-based which may have been better suited to the stage. The theatrics of the performances would have felt at home and the small scale would be more appropriate. Unlike last year’s Beatriz at Dinner, which had a similar setup, it doesn’t take advantage of its medium. On the big screen, the film struggles through its first half until the melodrama appears. As juicy details are revealed and the characters are forced out of their ivory towers, the film becomes immensely more interesting. Seeing the supposedly refined exteriors shatter when faced with decidedly low-class problems is a welcome, almost cathartic change. Each new piece of information increases the hysteria – and the humor – while Ganz’s new age healer interjects with his own unwanted hippy philosophies to the chagrin of the other partygoers trying to cope with their immediate issues. Potter shows a knack for creating social situations that quickly spiral out of control, it’s just a shame that it takes her so long to get there.

3/5 stars.

Beatriz at Dinner (2017)

There’s nothing like a dinner party gone awry. It’s awkward, uncomfortable, and potentially friendship ending. This is the scenario Miguel Arteta (Cedar Rapids) has brought to life. Salma Hayek stars as Beatriz, a masseuse and homeopathic healer that works in a cancer clinic by day and does work for private clients on the side. After her car breaks down at the house of one of her long-time customers, she is invited to stay for their dinner party until help can arrive. However, she is not their typical house guest. The dinner forces her to come into contact with a local real-estate mogul, played by John Lithgow, who couldn’t be more different from her.

Beatriz immediately stands out from the other dinnergoers. She is plainly dressed and unadorned. She is dwarfed by the other dolled-up, statuesque women and can’t relate to their superficial discussions. It takes several minutes before anyone else even acknowledges her presence. Initially, she is fairly reticent. It’s not until she has had a few glasses of white wine that we get to see her opinions come out. She quickly establishes herself as strong-minded and willing to call out others on their behavior, even to the dismay of her hosts.

Beatriz is completely out of place with the elite, ultra-wealthy guests.

Hayek is completely convincing as Beatriz. Despite being an actress known for her looks, she inhabits the role. Her Beatriz is unpretentious and caring. She bonds with animals and claims to literally feel the pain of others. Even as she starts to disrupt the evening, her intentions are selfless and her heart is kind. Hayek’s greatest triumph is that she is able to portray the character without ever becoming preachy. She doesn’t have a holier-than-thou attitude. She only wants to heal and prevent others from being hurt.

The timing of the release brings new, potentially unplanned, meaning to the premise. With the current political climate of the U.S. divided on immigration, what services may or may not constitute a redistribution of wealth, and an ever-growing income disparity, the characters could easily be seen as symbolic with Lithgow’s character representing the far right and Beatriz as the left. However, Arteta leaves most of the allegory up to the viewer, choosing instead to focus on Beatriz’s reaction when confronted with someone who leads a drastically different life with a polar opposite moral compass (if any).

The allegory becomes less about the rich and the poor and more about those that heal versus those that cause suffering. Beatriz sees healing as not only the most noble, but the most difficult occupation and she has devoted her entire life to that cause. Eventually, she wonders if prevention is better than healing. What if she could stop a source of suffering rather than deal with its aftermath? This becomes her albatross. How does she deal with this man whose actions are entirely damaging? By examining how to stay true to your beliefs when faced with your literal antithesis-made-flesh, Arteta lifts Beatriz at Dinner from a simple comedy of manners to an introspective crisis of morality.

4/5 stars.