The question of how we should live is at the core of My Dinner with Andre. More than being about the philosophical explanations of this question, director Louis Malle allows the subject matter to unravel as an experience than can be admired despite one’s views. As it is stated late in the film, “sometimes you just have to cut out all the noise, stop performing, and listen to what’s inside you.”
- Director: Louis Malle
- Writer: Andre Gregory, Wallace Shawn
- Cast: Andre Gregory, Wallace Shawn
Wally (Shawn) hasn’t seen his former mentor and friend Andre (Gregory) in years. They’ve both work within the world of theater. Wally sits at a dinner with Andre in a fancy restaurant, uncovering the mystery surrounding Andre’s professional hiatus in recent years. For nearly two hours, the dinner will cover topics ranging from art, the nature of life, and their perspectives on living.
The first few minutes of exposition still hold up, even if the production value isn’t strong. Wally’s voice-over does a great job of building anticipation, much of it surrounding the mystery of Andre’s whereabouts in recent years. However, to talk about this film is to talk about the conversation between Wally and Andre. Andre dominates the conversation for the first 40 minutes, mainly describing in great detail some of his recent trips to places such as Tibet and the Sahara, while also sharing his experiences with experimental theater. Andre’s anecdotes are long-winded and contrived, and it doesn’t help that the dialogue feels like dialogue. It’s as if Andre has told these stories thousands of times and he’s merely reciting lines. There are even moments when the editing holds too long on Wally’s reactions, making him appear as though he’s trying too hard to pretend that he’s interested in Andre.
But the appeal of the film changes completely when Andre begins to show vulnerability, speaking of death and his life, wondering if it’s been a sham. The conversation then goes into full stride when they begin discussing topics such as purpose, reality, and how each one feels we should respond to comforts in our lives. The thought-provoking nature of their talk is the heart, revealing the gaps between their perspectives while making their lives feel accessible. For a film that takes place almost entirely at a dinner table, it is absolutely necessary for the dialogue to hold up. Not only does it hold it, it soars higher as the film progresses. Just their discussion about science and the questioning of our ability to live happily without needing some esoteric understanding of the world offers sentiments and concerns that apply in today’s world. The timelessness of the subject matter is what makes My Dinner with Andre ultimately valuable.
Brief Words for Mr. Ebert:
Ebert’s review begins by talking about how odd this film is, he’s right. It’s easy to see why people return to this film many times over, despite how unlikely that we should even enjoy it. I disagree that the film “never, ever, becomes a static series of two shots and closeups”. There are times when the editing — despite how calculated it might be — feels as though it holds too long. Ebert would describe this as merely capturing tensions in both actors, though I’m not so sure. The magic here is that we get a conversation that enraptures us if we allow some of the ideas being discussed to marinate in our heads. And perhaps Ebert is correct in saying that more than the actual subject matter, My Dinner with Andre is mostly an achievement in mood, tone and energy.
Good, Bad or Great Movie: GREAT
Do you like My Dinner with Andre? Do you consider this film to be Good, Bad, or does it stand up as Great?
Next week’s review: Laura
Years ago, ScreenCrave contributor Jaime Lopez privately began tackling Roger Ebert’s “Greatest Films” list, a monolith of celluloid currently comprised of approximately 363 films (more if you count the trilogies, the Up docs and Decalogue). Lopez has set himself to put these remaining films’ “Greatness” to the test–reviewing both the movies themselves and Ebert’s response. By taking on Louis Malle’s My Dinner with Andre this week, he now has 329 under his belt and less than 100 films left to go.