Thursday, March 21, 2013

My Dinner with Andre

My Dinner with Andre; experimental film, USA, 1981; D: Louis Malle, S: Andre Gregory, Wallace Shawn

New York. Actor and playwright Wallace is invited to have dinner in a restaurant with the man he has been avoiding for years, theatre director Andre. However, with time, the two of them have a very intimate and intriguing conversation, ranging from Andre's visit to a Polish forest, experimental plays, the Findhorn community and work with Jerzy Grotowski. Later on they talk about the human spirit, philosophy, how people became "dead machines" and the meaning of life. After the dinner, they leave.

One of the best cult movies from the 80s, a rare example of an experimental movie actually molding itself into a meaningful, purposeful and harmonius whole, "My Dinner with Andre" is still one of the most daring art movies in cinema: while "My Night at Maude" consisted out of a man and a woman just talking for about 60 % of the movie, here 100 % of the film consists just out of two people talking - and "nothing more". That is, "nothing more" only if viewers tend not to like words, but a lot to those who realize that words sum up (almost) everything we know about life. And that words can sometimes mirror and describe the essence of life. This may not be such an "unwatchable" concept as some critics speculated since people often get into a cozy discussion and don't even notice hours have passed due to fascinating topics. Director Louis Malle might even be aiming at a metafilm connection concerning our perception: that the movie audience was so used to fake events on the big screens that rarely or never happen (big explosions, monsters, superheroes who save the world...) that they find something so common and real like two people just talking as something foreign and inconceivable.

The first 50 minutes may be a little outlandish centring only around Andre's experimental trips and experiences, sometimes even stiff or questionable, but once Wallace joins in and they start taking about philosophical themes, the movie really takes off and becomes a fluid experience where words are the embodiment of passionate energy. Andre becomes fascinating with time because he practically gives a summary of his whole life experience, he is almost as one of those people who witnessed the last concert of the Beatles and are still alive and well to tell the tale and how that felt. Andre is esoteric, wild, with an open mind, while Wallace is comfortable, scientific, realistic, making their clash inevitable. Andre's monologue to Wallace about how "comfort can become dangerous because it can lull you to a dangerous tranquillity"; the discussion about how all the people cannot go to Mt. Everest to find spirituality or why Mt. Everest should be "more real than a cigarette store"; the statement that the "1 9 6 0s were the last outburst of the human race before it extinguished"; the idea that New York is one giant "volontary" concentration camp, all seem engaging and stimulate the imagination. Andre's most memorable statement is probably this one: "OK, yes, we are bored now. But has it ever occurred to you that the process that creates this boredom that we see in the world may very well be a self-perpetuating, unconscious form of brainwashing, created by a world totalitarian government based on money, and that all of this is much more dangerous than one thinks? And it's not just a question of individual survival, but that somebody who is bored is asleep, and will not say no?" The movie could have been a tad more versatile, but is already rich with accumulated wisdom about the civilization and life in general.


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