This whole conversation plays right in front of our eyes and there’s never a moment in which it panders away. Yet the whole movie’s primary focus is directed towards not what the film is about, but what it is that our subjects are discussing thoroughly. Louis Malle’s My Dinner with André exposes a form of art which can be found right from seemingly simple conversation. It’s an idea that on its surface seems very fairly small, but suddenly as we find ourselves pulled into this discussion, specific thoughts come into our mind that also go on to question how we’re perceiving what we believe to be ordinary within our own lives, it’s truly something more exciting than what could be imagined just from the way a plot synopsis can make it sound.
We can get a hint alone at the premise for My Dinner with André just by reading the title, for all we are watching for nearly two hours is Wallace Shawn and André Gregory sitting at a dinner table inside of a restaurant, talking about many different subjects. And that’s all the film is about, but there’s a reason as to why such a film like this is made all the more intriguing than reading a plot summary can give away. The way Louis Malle is showing us to this conversation between Wallace Shawn and André Gregory is not merely an observant look at their discussions, but instead Malle is inviting the audience to be a part of their talk, for a lot of subjects in which they talk about inspire us as viewers to think about the current state of things, and then it becomes clear how something bigger is coming out from My Dinner with André. Right there, we have what truly is one of the most fascinating experiences not only on a cinematic level, but also on a philosophical level, and at that, My Dinner with André is of its own kind.
Amongst the many topics which we are given within My Dinner with André speak in regards to Gregory’s own life experiences ever since he had given up as a theater director. But as André Gregory is speaking, Wallace Shawn is doing his best in order to relate ordinary pleasures insisting how the sort of life that Gregory had been leading, is not possible for most people. When we go ahead to think about what sort of experiences a man like André Gregory had, there’s a closeness to which we feel to his personality. I may not be a playwright, but when I hear André talking about his quest through Poland and describing his own religious experiences, I was thinking to myself that maybe there’s a point to which I find myself sympathizing with where the quest has taken him in terms of what he is believing in.
There’s a sense of tension that comes about even from watching the two of them talk with one another, because we’re always interested to see what is the result of their philosophies coming back and forth with one another. André Gregory is a picture of an artist who has a pessimistic view on life, and Wallace Shawn, in his tendency to talk of the ordinary, is an optimistic everyday man who insists that the seemingly mundane life might be providing much more after all. As we are pulled into their own conversation about their ideologies, there’s a clear sense of conflict arising from how pessimism and optimism are at odds with one another. Who do we sympathize with more? Or maybe do we shroud ourselves way too much within either the positives or the negatives to a point we forget that life will provide both of them at times when we don’t expect them to? As they talk more, they begin to feed in more to our thoughts and views in regards to the outside.
As much as the film continues filling up our thoughts, what’s especially impressive is how the minimalism within the filmmaking style just shows how Louis Malle does not want so many big moments coming in to distract his audiences. The attention to detail within the filmmaking only adds more to be astounded with because when Malle knows that either perspective is sharing a very important point as a means of backing up their own beliefs, he always maintains a clear focus so that we can really get right inside their heads as they speak. Within no time, the film truly does succeed in getting us to really think about how their perspectives may indeed be much similar to our own in some way, and there might be a calling for us out there in order to change the seemingly mundane routines of our own lives.
Does it matter whether André Gregory and Wallace Shawn were acting or not? Either case, what they leave behind within this remarkable discussion between one another only goes ahead to fill up our own heads more. My Dinner with André provides a clever look at these views on life and how they may indeed be something we should keep within our own thoughts because it will go ahead and leave us to rethink about certain decisions we are making. It’s very much a miniscule film when we are to speak of the way it looks, but the overflow of ideas present from beginning to end in regards to philosophy make for fantastic brain food. There’s a strange connection I found between myself and André Gregory as he speaks of his quest, I found a soul lost within the overflow of what appears in front of oneself, as mundane. It was from there I knew already that My Dinner with André was truly something special.
Watch a clip right here.
All images via Janus Films.
Directed by Louis Malle
Screenplay by André Gregory, Wallace Shawn
Produced by George W. George, Beverly Karp
Starring André Gregory, Wallace Shawn
Release Year: 1981
Running Time: 111 minutes