By Bridget Foster Reed
Despite the political ramifications of A REPORT ON THE PARTY AND THE GUESTS (1966), its relevance transcends any historical time period, geographical location or cultural identity. The viewer of this film is not merely a bystander or onlooker, as is the case in nearly every film. This film, rather forcefully, invites your active participation in the central plot and resolution.
This premise is established through the brilliant cinematography of Jaromir Sofr directed by Jan Nemec. The opening scene plants the viewer a few yards from a small gathering of guests in a field. As you happen upon this bizarre meeting of minds, like an actual guest, you are not privy to any back-story. Instead, you must surmise through observations delegated by the frenzied movements and cuts of the camera’s gaze.
A woman tries to knock back a shot, rather unsuccessfully as the alcohol dribbles down the sides of her face, another woman lackadaisically plays with the chewing gum in her mouth and a man picks the crevices of his fingernails. This overload of hyper-realistic snippets of rather unglamorous, but essentially normal behaviors of the guests simulates behavior of an actively participating viewer. A majority of the sequences are filmed from the waist up, corresponding to your seated position while watching this film.
Further into the film the range of voyeuristic shots diversifies. At one moment you are perched above the scene, able to survey the scope of it all, but before you get too comfortable, you are crouched below and then you are peering behind someone’s shoulder.
The pivotal moment where the film calls upon your direct participation occurs when the band of guests is playfully “kidnapped” by a troupe of other guests. The ringleader, a mousy man in knickers stationed at a desk, barks a set of rules at the captives who are imprisoned by a square drawn in the gravel by one of the kidnappers. The viewer is established as an outlier by the teetering movement of the camera as the others conform to orderly lines inside the square. The ringleader takes a liking to the man with the hip frames (who has an eerie similarity to Bill Hader) and in perfect synchronization they march carefully around the square prison. The viewer, who remains outside the line at all times, contradicts their choreography, breaking away from it again, through the camera’s movements.
The film now gives the viewer a platform to voice their opinions through an interrogation sequence. The mousy man, gripping the edges of the desk stares directly into the camera and asks a series of questions peppered with pauses. At first, I assumed it was a guest in the square he was directing the questions at. However, when the camera cuts to the supposed object of the questioning, he does not answer the questions, instead he expresses his anger about being held captive. The most telling line of the entire film that clues the viewer into their role is the mousy man’s response: “But I didn’t speak to him”.
At that moment I realized he was speaking to me. I re-watched the scene and this time answered him.
Mousy Man: Well?
Me: [startled] Yes?
Mousy Man: Do you like it here?
Me: [puzzled] I don’t know. I feel a bit uncomfortable.
Mousy Man: And the countryside?
Me: What about it?
Mousy Man: Lovely?
Me: Well, sure it’s lovely but…
The abrupt butting in of the other guest made me feel frustrated because I wanted to finish my conversation with the gentleman. The mousy man was frustrated, too. This remains an unresolved part of the film. Despite the charming atmosphere of the party, most lovely is the large spotted great dane drawn carriage holding a pair of well dressed gents, the guests are preoccupied with the one unhappy guest who they discovered has gone missing. They seem to have forgotten all about you, the viewer. They even seem to be more obsessed with the anatomical perfection of a German shepherd, brought in as a search dog, than your role or involvement in this whole thing.
The German shepherd is then put on the hunt for the unhappy guest. The film concludes with audio of a dog aggressively barking, getting louder and louder. Turns out they had forgotten about the viewer. They found the unhappy guest.
It was me.