Thursday, October 27, 2011

Mike Leigh: Abigail's Party

Mike Leigh's Abigail's Party (1977) is scarier than any Halloween horror movie I've ever seen. Leigh again impresses with his masterly ability to cut to the bone of awkward social situations, in this case a house party, with great economy. There is only one primary setting, a living room in a suburban house outside of London; and there are only five on-screen characters: two married couples and Sue, a divorcée, whose teenaged daughter Abigail is having a party back at her very nearby house. We can hear the thumping music of the teen event in the background, while in the foreground the unhappy adults drink, smoke, drink some more, nibble, gossip, compare material values, bicker, dance and speculate about Abigail and her guests.

Abigail's Party delivers grim satire and even grimmer exploration of social relationships, psychology and class conciousness. Brutal -- but beautifully executed, sort of like Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit blending into Luis Buñuel's El ángel exterminador / The Exterminating Angel. Here's what truly happens when a domineering host -- in this case Beverly, played perfectly by Alison Steadman, who also plays Candice Marie, a character who is as mousy as Beverly is brash, in Leigh's Nuts in May -- wreaks havoc at a social gathering and no one seems able to stop her.

Today's Rune: Journey.

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