My Dinner with Andre (USA, 1981)

Directed by: Louis Malle. This is one of the most talked about movies in history, and it’s a movie where “nothing happens.” I’m sure it’s been called the “Seinfeld of independent cinema” or something, so I won’t claim the credit for that amazing insight. Suffice to say, this is a film about two middle-aged white men talking about theatre and art, and life and death, in New York in the late 70’s/early 80’s. They sit in a fancy restaurant for 2 hours, talking about this stuff—mostly Andre talking, Wallace Shawn listening, and occasionally punctuating the scene with a narrative remark in voice-over—and that’s it. And I knew it would be like that, and I was skeptical if I would like it or not. Surely, on paper, most audiences won’t be into that, even if it were made today with today’s hottest actors, much less as it is, with older cameras, and two actors who weren’t even very famous 35 years ago. To me, this premise is a hard sell from the get-go because there’s a lot of pressure on the dialogue to actually be very illuminating and philosophical, to make me see the world differently. Basically the pressure of the entire movie—lighting, sets, cast, editing, music, the whole thing—is riding on the content of what these guys are talking about, and how well they convey those ideas. The acting is excellent, and the pacing, etc, but that’s still an awful lot of pressure on just the dialogue, to make us forget that we’re just stuck in this restaurant with this one conversation, like watching a behemoth one-act play instead of a movie. And at this point, I don’t really remember what they were talking about for most of the time anyway, other than Andre going to the jungle and having spiritual experiences in a workshop of some kind? Basically, Andre to me read like a supporting character out of a Woody Allen movie from this period—upper class New York art socialite—which is fine, but to me the ideas have to work pretty hard to make me forget that these are pretty pampered, decadent people whose concerns inherently don’t interest me that much. But all of this distancing is by way of saying that I actually enjoyed the film overall, and that, whatever it was they were talking about, I was wrapped up in their delivery and the structure and pacing, that I stuck with it to the end. And really, it’s Wallace Shawn. Without Wallace Shawn, would anyone be willing to sit there and listen to someone as pompous as this Andre character for the whole movie with barely any pause? Wallace Shawn really has this strange, captivating quality that makes it so comfortable to sit there and listen, because we’re sitting and listening in his place, as Wallace Shawn surrogates. So that’s pretty cool.

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