Film Reviews

My Dinner with André Louis Malle

Rating - 9/10

Louis Malle's experiment in the art of conversation, My Dinner with André, is meant to capture the essence of a grand and authentic rendezvous.  With striking relevance and urgency in 1981, the film remains especially pertinent today in an age where true face-to-face communication has yielded to abbreviated thumb-typed text messages lacking punctuation, which are more commonly utilized than articulate and eloquent discourse.  The film provides no fixed format for the playwrights/actors, Wallace Shawn and André Gregory, who have written their own dialogue and therefore deliver it in a naturally revealing way.  The cohesion in Gregory's self-expression lies particularly within his philosophical ideologies and inherent nomadic nature, which unifies his amusing anecdotes and world chronicles.

One of the instantly recognizable and pleasantly misleading elements of My Dinner with André is the institution of Wallace Shawn's commanding first-person narration that summarizes and introduces his past experiences with former colleague and companion André Gregory.  "He was the man who had first discovered me and put one of my plays on the professional stage," Shawn benevolently remarks.  "The amazing work he did with his company, The Manhattan Project, had just stunned audiences throughout the world.  But then something had happened to André; he dropped out of the theater and sort of disappeared."  Once Shawn discerns Gregory's outrageous travels and personal justification behind his sudden disappearance from the theater world, Shawn loses his narrative sway and becomes subdued into the role of the astonished attentive listener.

Malle's direction utilizes a regularity of medium shots and close-ups; the camera parallels the relentlessness of Gregory's demonstrations by more frequently capturing his musing expressions as the conversation develops.  Gregory reveals an absolute fascination with world culture from visits to Poland for a theatrical workshop, a meandering trip through the Sahara Desert, and a Scottish communal locale for the Findhorn group who meditate with plantlife.  Through these varied and unorthodox ventures, it's clear that Gregory has left theater in pursuit of spiritual guidance.  His remarks steadily capture a traditional Buddhist philosophy in that the definition of life is directly related to awareness of death, augmented with further reasoning that Americans should attempt to understand the reality of their environment so they may prepare to change it and not become lulled into asphyxiation.  These sorts of passages regarding perception seem to be adopted in Richard Linklater's 2001 rotoscoped film Waking Life. Additionally, like Linklater's film, My Dinner with André serves as a potential catalyst to a cultural renaissance or enlightenment as it is seasoned with numerous cerebral minds and works of art to rouse interest, at least in the characters' relative terms.

After the two intellectuals finish their respective quail entrées, Shawn quietly decompresses behind the introspective classical piano of Satie's "Gymnopédie No. 1." He then reassumes his role of the narrator, but his tone is more evocative as he speaks of memories of each individual place he passes in a Manhattan taxicab.  Although some recent critics like DVDVerdict's Roy Hrab have found the ongoing debate in My Dinner with André to be "preachy" and "unsatisfying" due to the socioeconomic status of the two men in a fine French dining establishment, the film's importance justly lies in its actual content and daring format.  As Gregory conjures up wild surrealist images, Malle provokes viewers to actively participate and engage into the experience as much as Shawn is himself.