A small group of dapper looking picnickers, men and women, frolic away in some tranquil location in a forest. They gorge on their food and wine and after some random gabbing, start to move on to somewhere else, presumably to their homes or another location. Only they are intercepted by an oddly behaving stranger (Jan Klusak), who is quite possibly a complete screwball, and his group of well-dressed men who forcibly take them to an unknown location.
He subjects them to some very harmless bullying, akin to what a bratty child would do to pacify himself by making some elders play some stupid games with him! The group doesn't seem to mind, barring the exception of one who takes offense. The others just go along, because the crank doesn't seem to be threatening them with anything too detrimental! They continue to humour him, are perhaps being polite or simply want to avoid trouble and get the thing out of the way.
Soon after, another stranger shows up with his own group. This one's an older gentleman (Ivan Vyskocil), who apologizes for the behavior of the bully who seems to be his adopted son Rudolf! The gentleman proceeds to welcome them to his outdoor birthday party by the lakeside. A newly married bride in a wedding gown joins the troop soon after and the occasion doubles up as a wedding party as well as a birthday party. The event turns out to be an outrageously bizarre affair, especially after the host takes offense when one of the guests takes off leaving a chair empty!
From the above premise, Jan Nemec’s 1966 film "A Report on the Party and the Guests" (AKA "The Party and the Guests") initially may seem like an absurd, idiotic film, perhaps a wannabe surrealist comedy. But dig deep and back to the roots of this film, and you will find why it rubbed some folks, including the ruling party, the wrong way and almost got its director arrested! Although the events that unfold in the film, especially in the final half hour are beyond ridiculous, they are supposed to be a scathing attack on the then Communist state of affairs, highlighting persuasion and forced blind conformity. Those who resist or fly the coop are collectively pursued, tracked down, and brought back with the help of search dogs no less, for walking out is an insult to the host! In each of the little happenings on screen, there is a subtle jab to be found at the communist philosophies. The happenings which, if not seen from this political perspective, may seem totally silly! The party, in fact, directly refers to the Communist Party!
The film is shot completely outdoors and the cinematography is excellent. Most of the times the camera goes a little too close for comfort, owing to the filmmaker’s fetish for close-ups! It suits the context of surrealism in the film nonetheless, making it an unsettling and oddball film experience. The film also brings forth memories of Luis Bunuel’s 1962 classic "The Exterminating Angel". Just like the frustrating event in which some guests in a party in Bunuel’s film aren’t able to leave the house, our group of guests in Nemec's film are unable to cross a line drawn by Rudolf in the sand around them! Characters behave in the oddest of manners and sometimes seem like individuals with a mental problem, even echoing one person's sentiments in succession in the vein of a "same here" when expressing their opinion about something. But this could very well be an exaggerated representation of the herd mentality, possibly due to fear of being left out, generally exhibited by normal human beings.
Nemec's film also brings to mind The Milgram Experiment conducted in 1961 by a Yale University Psychologist, which tested the willingness of the participants to submit to a person of authority by obeying him/her and perform certain acts even if they went against their moral conscience. Only Nemec's film deals with this concept in a bitingly comic tone banking on the ludicrous and irrational, while it was referenced on a rather disturbing level in last year's "Compliance" (2012).
With a premise like this, a feature length film of this sort could've been in grave danger of venturing into monotony owing to lack of much variation or substance in the narrative. In the end, it is but an allegorical depiction of an ideology through a single occasion, that of a birthday banquet! But Nemec limits the length to a crisp 70 minutes, thereby keeping it concise and not letting it slip into tedium. The screenplay penned by Ester Krumbachova and Jan Nemec showcases some strange episodes and some hilariously disconnected and repetitive dialog for the effect of absurdist humour.
The film is extremely well acted. Watch out for some laugh out loud acting moments from the excellent Jan Klusak with his wildly funny performance as the maniacal Rudolf. But it is Ivan Vyskocil who takes over in the entire second half, with a splendid performance as a kind, glib host who later turns into an eccentric authoritarian! A strange bit of coincidence (or maybe not!) that Vyskocil in this film resembles Vlamidir Lenin, which further fuelled some controversy and brought the film under the scanner! It is also notable how his character keeps stressing on the word "guests" tinged with a slight sarcasm, as if he doesn’t really mean it! But it is these hidden attacks full of sharp wit in a greater scenario of a comic banquet sequence that make this a very enjoyable, darkly comic psychological drama cum political satire!
"A Report on the Party and the Guests" is a bold, important film from the Czech New Wave. Definitely go for it!