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Review of My Dinner with Andre (1981)

Isn't it weird that Wallace Shawn's character in this film is also named Wallace Shawn? heeheehee. Basically, My Dinner With Andre has no plot to speak of. It is Wallace having a dinner / conversation with Andre Gregory. They don't generally play themselves but something that can be said as a reel version of their real self. In the opening five minutes of the film, Shawn brings us to date why he is getting into that restaurant, telling us clearly in voice-over the uncertainty of what he is going to expect and the bitter, below-average life he is currently living. In short, Shawn is practically reading a page from his diary to his personal best friend - and that friend is you, the viewer. Which is appropriate since not many people let loose the secrets of the diary to a majority and this film doesn't have millions running behind it, so the viewer is one of the lucky few. Once inside the restaurant, Shawn orders a drink and waits for Andre to appear. After a few more minutes of insight-narration, Andre appears and they both sit at the table. Within a short time frame, Shawn - who has by that time bought us to date on him - starts bringing us to date on Andre; who he is, who he was, what's his job etc... It is only after when they put down the menu that Andre Gregory has all of your attention. Full 100% of it.

For the next 1 hour Andre talks, talks and talks. He talks about his extraordinary adventures, the spiritual, as well as psychological, experiences he had in the Norway woods, the Sahara desert and in his own home, the everyday life, the theatre, the films, the media, the existence of human being, and virtually everything mature, experienced men talk about. In-between of his talks, impressive beyond anything, he also expresses his dissatisfaction on certain things. In that 1 hour all doubt is erased from your mind and you fully accept, and grip on, to the fact that Andre is not a fabricated, manufactured character tinkered and oiled for the screen. He is authentic, and the character he builds for himself reminds us of the times when we had at least one friend who was like Andre. Let's face it, we were either the Shawn of the group or the Andre. I was the former, but I did have my latter moments.

Exactly one hour into the film, the focus of the talks shift from spiritual experiences to the heavy reality of the world, and how it is sinking in an abyss. Well, you know, the things dissatisfied men grump about. Both of them show conflicting attitudes, and Shawn is the "doubter" of the two, while Andre is the calmer, take-everything-into-point guy of the group and attentively listens to the other before giving an opinion or view-point himself. So basically, we get to know that Wallace is the sort of the guy who is trying to find happiness in the daily routine, trying to find life in whatever he does in his day-to-day life. He wants to enjoy the little things and contemplates on why would anyone would want to go on "top of the Mount Everest to feel alive when you can feel just as alive in a cigar store". What he means is that we're alive, but we're not aware of it. We think happiness, the moment of being really connected to the world, comes from doing extraordinary things, such as climbing Mount Everest. In short, Wallace is a simple guy who doesn't (or is not willing to) like extraordinarily big thinking, making him the sort of a guy who just wants to live, and not try to find out the logic or meaning behind each and every thing. Andre, on the other hand, after going through different stages to become "human" again, believes that a-lot can be achieved through almost nothing. He, like Wallace, treasures the little things but wants to experience, and store, the bigger things and literally wants to see a world inside the world we're living in, see through the glass, the inside of a brick, beneath the everyday surface. It is interesting to see two old friends, while agreeing on basic things, are different on the complicated stuff.

To bundle it all up, this is the other side of movies we almost never really get nowadays, or ever, for that matter. Had this film been made now - or by another director - then it would've been raped by flashbacks and that would've made this film just another film, just another brick in the wall. My Dinner With Andre is even less than minimalistic. It is almost nothing, but the style of execution is so brilliant, so hypnotizing, so real that it feels less a film and more a camera-recording you did in secret.

The ending is very moving. Even though these two are not connected, this film's ending reminded me of 12 Angry Men - we never really get to see the ending / verdict. It is all left ambiguous. Anyway, Wallace is seen riding home in a taxi and tells us that he knows every last detail of New York. His recounting of the last two memories remind us that no matter how expensive a camera or a cycle or a watch you get on your birthday, it will always be the badly drawn birthday card by a 6 year old child that will always grab you and move you. The big things complete the void in your room. The little things fill the void in your life!

Or at-least that's my deduction of the ending, and the film as a whole!

Added by Happy Vader
6 years ago on 27 December 2012 18:22