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Monday, September 12, 2011

THE SHOOTING PARTY (1984)

Isabel Colgate’s novella covers a long weekend of civilized conversation & bird shooting at a country estate during the last Edwardian autumn of pre-WWI England. It’s a deft take on a Masterpiece Theatre format, a whole season of DOWNTON ABBY or UPSTAIRS/DOWNSTAIRS not condensed, but suggested. This has the advantage of letting the audience bring their own intuitions to the party, and the filmmakers help by not slamming all the elegant period details at us. Instead, we stroll along with a truly remarkable cast, sans the snark and ironic detachment of something like Bob Altman’s GOSFORD PARK/’01. James Mason, in his final perf, is quietly devastating as the civilized host, watching his comfortable world pass out of existence amid quashed romantic dalliances & ungentlemanly competitive shooting. Good as it is, the material can’t help but recall Jean Renoir’s masterful THE RULES OF THE GAME/’39: the country estate, a climactic shoot, accidental death, a philosophical poacher, romantic misdirection, a costume party, even a rich Jew to salve any financial troubles. We also aren’t too far from Luchino Visconti’s THE LEOPARD/’63, another melancholy look at the end of a cultured society seen thru the eyes of a grand seigneur. That’s a lot of gentlemanly competition for helmer Alan Bridges to keep up with. In its modest way, the film is a worthy junior companion to those classics.

DOUBLE-BILL: Any of the films mentioned above, including GOSFORD PARK; sometimes a little snark is a good thing.

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