Directed by: Louis Malle
My Dinner with Andre is a deceptively simple film. It is about a man who is unsatisfied with his career and life going to meet a colleague of his for a dinner. This man is apprehensive of the meeting because five years earlier this man stopped an enormously successful career as a theatre director and sort of fell off the earth. He then popped up at various times talking about how he went to different places in order to talk to trees. This man didn’t know what kind of insane drivel to expect from this man.
This film is of course much, much deeper than that. It only takes place in one dining room over the course of maybe a couple of hours in this characters’ lives, but during this time they travel to Poland, the Sahara, Tibet, New York, and the Scottish Isles. Andre talks about his apathy for life that he was experiencing and Wally (who is the other man, a surrogate maybe for the audience) has the same sort of feeling.
I connected with the film on a deep level. They explored themes that may seem very general but are true to life. Finding oneself, death, purpose, art, other people, the inability to carry on a real conversation with people you know, spirituality, family members, the role media plays in people’s experiences, and money are all explored during this conversation. Andre plays like the guide through his experiences and Wally sort of is the dissent, the skeptic about these experiences. I cannot help but be on Wally’s side, but wish I was on Andre’s side, if that makes any sense. There is a deeply ingrained sense of skepticism that I have had since I was born, I guess. I want to believe accounts of rejuvenation and discovery, but I couldn’t ever really believe. I don’t really think that by the end of the conversation that Andre is any better than Wally for having had these experiences.
Wally is a person that never really had any success that Andre enjoyed. He had some of his plays produced, he has some bit parts in plays and in film, but mostly it was just him waiting for his chance. Andre had a wildly successful career, but felt he peaked maybe too soon. Or maybe it wasn’t exactly what he wanted to be doing. So he went on these journeys to try to discover himself. Would it have been possible for Andre to discover himself while staying in New York City with his family? Would it be possible for Wally to do the same thing as Andre? Would he even want to go anywhere but New York City? Did Andre in fact discover himself or is Andre still searching? I think by the end of the film, both characters are signficantly changed, but will the change last? Or will Wally just go on to his daily routine? The more I think about this film, the deeper it goes for me.
Ultimately this film is about the difficulty to really connect to people. They bring up at several points in the film how the society they are sort of trapped in does nothing but talk, but they don’t actually say anything. Even during this conversation, Wally has a difficult time in expressing how he feels about Andre’s experiences. Wally asks Andre if he really wants to hear what he is going to say. He then goes on a type of rant where he is expressing how closed off he is from life. How he likes to be with his girlfriend, read, do his errands, write every once in a while, and wake up to a cold cup of coffee. If there isn’t a roach in his cup of coffee, then he will have a good day. But if there is a roach in that cup then he won’t. Andre sort of dominates the conversation for most of the film, but after Wally decides to reveal what he actually thinks, it becomes closer and closer to an even dialogue.
Through the extra features of the film, you can explore why these three people wanted to make this film. Everything that Andre talks about in the film really did happen to the real Andre Gregory. Wallace Shawn is really his friend, but of course he did not just hear these conversations once in a restaurant. Their process of making this film is just as interesting as watching the film itself. There is also a magnificent conversation with the film’s director, Louis Malle. He sums up My Dinner with Andre and his other films by saying that he doesn’t want his audience to come away from the film with a clear sense of anything. Malle is just as confused during the making of his films, so should everyone else be.
This clip is a wonderful example of the play between the two characters.