A short excerpt from the Booklet essay by Michael Brooke
One of the most controversial Czech films of its era, Jan Němec's second feature was completed in 1966, belatedly released during the short-lived liberalisation of early 1968 but formally "banned forever" in 1973, a decree that remained in force until the Velvet Revolution of 1989 (at least in Czechoslovakia). The widespread assumption, very much shared by Antonín Novotný, the Czechoslovak President at the time of production, was that the film was a direct attack on the Communist government and therefore too dangerous to show.
To be fair to Novotný and his equally censorious successors, this impression has also been widely assumed in the West, aided and abetted by its two official English titles. A literal translation of O slavnosti a hostech, stripping out articles and ambiguity, would be something like 'About Celebration and Guests'. However, both British and American versions translate 'slavnost' as 'the party', which the rules of English title capitalisation turn into 'the Party', an unhelpfully loaded term. The American title, A Report on the Party and the Guests, goes further still, suggesting that the film itself has been commissioned by some unnamed agency (possibly with links to the secret police) to be used as evidence in an impending prosecution of its unwitting protagonists. This certainly doesn't counter the film's spirit, but it does tend to narrow its focus.
It's actually closer to an absurdist satire, squarely in line with one of the most fashionable theatrical movements of the day. Originated by the Irish-born Samuel Beckett and Romanian-born Eugene Ionesco in Paris in the 1950s, it travelled particularly well to Czechoslovakia - unsurprisingly, as absurd humour is very much a Czech trait. The very different works of Franz Kafka and Jaroslav Hasek demonstrate this to perfection, as do the plays of Němec's distant cousin (and future President) Václav Havel, whose bureaucratic satire The Memorandum (Vyrozumení,1965) mocked attempts at streamlining the language of workplace communication.
Comparisons have also been drawn between Němec's films and the more overtly Surrealist work of Luis Bunuel. Němec's first feature Diamonds of the Night (1964) not only depicted one of its protagonist's faces crawling with ants in overt homage to Un Chien Andalou, but also blithely intercut dream and reality without distinguishing the two. Though Němec would not see the first until the 1970s, and the second wouldn't be made till then, The Party and the Guests can be bookended very neatly by The Exterminating Angel (El ángel exterminador, 1962) and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie, 1972). Indeed, either of Bunuel's titles could conceivably be reapplied to Němec's film when thinking of the far-reaching powers of its white-clad, deeply sinister 'host', or the discreetly charming picnickers who are generally content to go along with the film's increasingly bizarre events (even if it means denouncing a former companion).
Michael Brooke’s complete Essay, from which this excerpt is taken, appears in the Booklet of the DVD release.
Length / Main Feature: 68 minutes
Length / Special Feature: 12 minutes
Sound: Original mono (restored)
Black & White
1.33:1 full frame
Subtitles: English On/Off
Release Date: 19 March 2007