Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Thrilling Conversation You've Been Waiting For

My Dinner With Andre(1981) Directed by Louis Malle
What's most amazing about this film is how easily you forget you are watching a movie, and not just two friends having dinner. An eccentric theater director and old friend (whose been avoiding the dinner for years) a struggling playwright, have dinner and discuss...well just about everything. Roger Ebert called this 'the only movie without cliches", and while it's not completely true (what really could be), it does manage to invert any expectations of characterization or plot.The conversation is NOT random either, all ideas explored here get re-integrated into the film later on, what begins with the "director" telling the details of his breakdown and bizarre attempts at spiritual and artistic fulfillment, in a cross between the most pretentious theater professor you have ever seen and the most interesting man in the world from those "Dos Equis" commercials. The play-write....don't know why I keep calling them by these titles, the characters names are their names in real life Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn (who it's nice to see in a serious role after his mad scientist "Southland Tales" bit)...anyway Shawn mostly listens to Andre who obviously loves attention and hearing himself speak, but later interrogates, contradicts, and adds much needed balance to Andre's new age excesses and paranoia. Not that it comes out as clearly or as neatly as Andre's monologue, Shawn is a writer, more comfortable on paper than in real life (there's an Ingmar Bergman quote about this idea early on), and you can literally see the thoughts and reactions building behind his eyes, even as he can't fully express them.Also little details about Andre abound, liberal guilt mostly (listen for how many times he compares himself to Nazi's)....but I could go on like this forever. The point is the characters are genuine and lyrical even as they trip over their words.
If you want to see some of where Richard Linklater got his sprawling conversational wit, "My Dinner With Andre" is absolutely necessary. It's rare to get a real intellectual and emotional charge out of a movie, "Before Sunrise/Sunset" and "Waking Life" did it, Spalding Grey's "The Monster", comes close, but this movie explodes with life, at it's most fascinating and most banal. This is the thrilling conversation you've been waiting for.

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