on March 29, 2001
My Dinner With Andre is a brilliant, difficult movie.
A lot of people are turned off by this film because it's mainly one extended scene of two unglamorous people talking about existence. But what a conversation, and what a scene! Andre Gregory's bizarre, surreal story and his catharsis about the nature of modern life that comes from it is powerful stuff, but the real punch comes from Wallace Shawn, our Everyman, and his reaction to it. It's a shame that so many can't watch more than 10 minutes of this movie, because it is ultimately Shawn, at the end, who speaks their thoughts.
MDWA demands your attention for two hours, which is no easy task, because there is no real narrative in the traditional sense. It also demands multiple viewings, because it is rich with subtle detail, and there's a lot to take in. Notice, for instance, the continual references to the Holocaust, culminating in Gregory's account of his friend's theory about the city-as-modern-concentration-camp. And as you watch these two actors play, ostensibly, themselves, you wonder how much of the film is true and how much is a carefully constructed narrative. It's a great mystery, one that I prefer unsolved.
Kudos also go to the director, the great Louis Malle, whose control is so precise that you almost forget you're watching a movie as opposed to two people just talking. It's a reminder of how the great directors are the ones who can do so much with so little. You'll never look at a blockbuster the same way again.
The reason I can't give this film 5 stars is that the video transfer is HORRIBLE. The color is often off, and the sound is mediocre at best. Hopefully someone will save and restore this gem of a film.
Do yourself a favor and SEE THIS MOVIE. You'll probably complain about doing it, but you'll feel immensely gratified afterward.
on May 15, 2004
I just finished this movie, and I feel like I need to simply get a few thoughts down before my head hits my pillow. I didn't know what to expect entering My Dinner With Andre - after all, it is a movie about two guys who have dinner in a restaurant and talk the whole time. But from the moment that the goofy-looking, awkward Wallace Shawn lumbers down a New York street and we hear his voice-over, I knew that something more was taking place in this movie. What it was, I had no idea.
There are no character names; there is no 'plot;' Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory, both prominent actors/playwrights of New York, meet after not having seen each other for years and they shoot the breeze. I learned that it's not as extemporaneous as I originally had imagined - Shawn and Gregory got together, recorded hours of their conversations, and then compiled a script based on them. The 'restaurant' is actually a defunct hotel, the waiters and barkeepers all actors. But there's a transcendence to it all, as the men sit and chat (mostly the powerful, lively Andre Gregory doing the talking), food being brought out to them.
What heightens the power of the film is the setup that Wallace gives in the voice-over before their dinner: Andre, the man he meets, has been living a peculiar existence traveling all over the world, when he used to never want to leave his family. A friend of Wallace's saw Andre weeks before sobbing uncontrollably on the street because he was violently moved by a line in Bergman's Autumn Sonata. Like Wallace, we don't know what to expect in the very context of the dinner conversation.
Some of the things that Andre and Wallace discuss in this movie are so unimaginably crazy, so hauntingly horrific, that even the mental images that went through my head sent chills all the way through me. At one point, Andre tells of a strange rite with some friends on Halloween in which some of them let him through a strange process of being stripped completely naked, bathed, led through a field, lowered into a grave and buried alive for half an hour. Of course, I tell you this just to tantalize you, because to begin to even summarize what goes on in 110 perfect minutes would be impossible. Andre and Wallace discuss love, marriage, perception and reality, theology, and even the validity of their very statements. That they relate it with such grace and raw, real emotion makes me refuse to believe that this was staged in any way. It feels so natural.
I can't believe that something like this could actually make its way onto film, because it's such an amazing achievement for the art itself - in a way (especially in an early story that Andre tells about the nature of performance), seeing these men talk over dinner on film is the actual embodiment of a movie folding into itself in perpetuity. These men are real figures, play real figures in the film, recreate real conversations, and talk about reality in such a way that a heightened sense of awareness pervades the whole film. I didn't get up once, check the time - a few times I leaned closer to the screen because what was being said struck so close to me, hit home so hard, that I wanted to just be nearer to it. At one point, I gasped as Andre related the idea of New York, of working society being a new kind of concentration camp in which the prisoners make the prison, abide by the rules, and don't even realize it's holding them in. Whether I believe that or not is irrelevant - the fact that it's worked into a conversation like this is amazing.
The movie moves with grace between moments of hauntingly dark realizations, to soaring epiphanies of happiness and then back again. Much of the film may be discussion about the zombie-like nature of human existence, but there is a certain empowering quality to it all. My Dinner With Andre is not just about a conversation; it is about living; it is about life; it is about reality; it is about love; but most of all it is about the fact that we can all be happy with what we have right now, even with the infinite, scary knowledge that we receive over time. We meet a man who personnifies 'normalcy' with every gesture (Wallace), and yet there's a man who has done everything in his power to resist stasis (Andre). I left the movie with a changed perspective on each man, which I'm sure is what happened between them, too. More than a few times, I felt on the verge of tears watching this, and I felt it more than ever when Erik Satie's "Gymnopedie for Piano" began at the film's conclusion. One of the most transcendent works of music was chosen for one of the most transcendently great films I've ever seen. How cool.
I'm sorry. I'm just rambling at 2:15am, but I just thought it was impossible to not attempt to put into words what could be one of the single most important experiences I've ever had with a movie. I've seen a handful of movies that have drastically changed my thinking about a certain theme or notion. My Dinner With Andre might have just changed my life.
on August 7, 2009
Amazon may automatically link my review to the old DVD release of this movie, "My Dinner with Andre," in which case, this may still be confusing. Pay attention- I am referring in my remarks here to the new Criterion Collection DVD version, which has a photo of a knife and fork on a napkin, on a plate, on the cover.
When I checked, the first review which appeared on the Amazon page of this new criterion collection version is an old review from 10 years ago. It trashes the DVD release and calls for a new version. Well, it's this criterion collection version which, 10 years later, has arrived to correct the errors which the review talks about. I'm referring to the review here that is titled "But no stars for the DVD". So don't get confused-- this edition is new.
As for the movie itself, I'm taking the time to write these remarks because it's a great movie that is well worth watching and watching again. By its very nature, as a two hour conversation, you can't absorb all of it the first time, so watch it's more worth buying than many movies. In fact, it played a significant part in raising my interest to the post theatrical work of Jerzy Grotowski, who Andre discusses in the movie.
on August 16, 1999
This is my favorite movie of all time. Period. You can sit inon the most interesting conversation ever and I've done it many times,every time finding myself thinking of different things, contemplating my own life and wondering about how crazy Andre actually is and how seriously to take his ideas about how human life came to an end a few decades ago, leaving us all robots in search of some twinge of real feeling. But the dvd is so bad I suspected it was a bootleg. When the camera switches from Andre to Wally the color completely changes. It's all grainy as if recorded on bad tape off a badly receiving tv. At one point a little white hair appears and vacillates on the lower screen for oh about 30 minutes. Are they kidding? There needs to be a new edition of this great movie, and those of us who bought this sham of a version should be allowed to trade it in. Here is a film critiquing the falseness of what our modern life has become: fine, but I don't need an object lesson costing me $20. Out of respect for the sublime Louis Malle, put out a new version!
on September 10, 2000
In the course of a two-hour conversation, Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory prove that cinematic stasis need not be boring, and in fact can even change your life to some small extent. In a way, this is almost like listening to a conversation between Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, if Quixote and Sancho were modern-day New York intellectuals. Andre, the Quixote of the film, speaks of his attempts to find meaning in his life by traveling around the world, staging avant-garde theater experiments, participating in the rites of bizarre death cults and consulting Buddhist monks; Wally, the Sancho, is happier to stay close to home, seeking contentment in a good cup of coffee or an electric blanket. But the two men are united in their mutual conviction that the unexamined life is not worth living. Andre's story about the fabulously wealthy duchess who starved to death because she refused to eat anything except chicken is much to the point. How many of us end up starving to death, in one way or another, in the midst of plenty? In any case, few people could come away from this movie without feeling a little more appreciation for the fragile beauty of life.
on March 11, 2005
Do you ever get tired of endless conversations about how you hate your work, how you dislike and despise your co-workers and how much better you could do the job that your boss is doing? Are you fed up with conversations about the same ole things: shopping, computer news, weather, sports, the business world, gossip, society gossip? Do you feel, after seeing another mindless car chase/explosion/blow em up shoot out/gross out movie, or another regurgitated romantic comedy with its nauseatingly predictable storyline, dialogue and ending that you've had enough and you seriously need a change of pace, a window on a different view. If you are ready for a quiet but at turns funny, profound, silly, and very lively two hours, then get My Dinner with Andre; the best two hour conversation in the history of man. It's about a collision between two ideas about the nature of life; what keeps us going, what gives life meaning.
Think of it this way, you're having dinner with someone and having the most boring conversation ever, and next to you are two people talking about all kinds of interesting things about what seems like everything under the sun. And you desperately want to be at that table. Well, this movie is that table.
Some have accused this film of being pretentious. Give me a break. This is about the most unpretentious film you can get. But what this film is is flat out stimulating and brilliant.
on June 13, 2000
I rented this after the horrible comments about the DVD quality. They're right...it's horrible. The movie is, however, wonderful. It's a polar movie in that people either seem to love this or hate it. My ex-girlfriend left after 15 minutes because it was so boring. I was watching and listening with the horrible feeling that the main characters could stop talking at any moment. It is riveting stuff. This kind of thing should be like the James Bond movies - each year a new conversation comes out. That would make me so happy.
on July 18, 2004
"My Dinner with Andre" is my all-time favorite film. I watch this movie often, each time of which I notice another layer of meaning. In addition to the superior dialogue and direction in this film (which other reviewers here have aptly described), the movie is rich, visually. This movie is not visually boring, despite the fact the cameras are on Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory for nearly two hours. Andre Gregory, especially, is such an engaging conversationalist that he evokes compelling mental images in the audience as to what these far away places might look like (i.e., the Sahara and the Polish forest to name a few). After all, Gregory said "I consider myself a bit of a Surrealist," meaning that the world of dream images in the mind's eye are the locus of true imagination. It's a superb use of the verbal to evoke the visual. Yes, the film is overtly naturalistic (i.e., the restaurant setting, a 2-hour meal with "real" characters), but the sheer dialogue transports one beyond mere verisimilitude.
Having the audience imagine, in their own ways, what these venues might look like is so contrary to what we get so often in American movies today. We typically get in your-face visuals and glitzy special effects (e.g., "Lord of the Rings) that allows no room for viewer imagination: its all artificially provided for you. Such films leave me, to use Gregory's words, "passive and impotent."
"My Dinner with Andre" respects its audience by reminding us what it is to be truly human. Having conversations as portrayed in this film is my ideal evening out with a good friend(s).
I can't recommend this movie enough.
on July 8, 1999
This is one of my all time favorite movies... But my heart sank when I saw the quality -- or the lack of -- the print they used for a basis... The reel changes show color shifts that you expect from cheesy arthouse theaters -- the color balance is all over the map. The luminance levels shift throughout the film as well.
Malle, Gregory and Shawn should be better represented than this level of transfer gives us.
If you absolutely have to see this DVD: play it on a 12" Black and White TV and enjoy the outstanding performances... then write and complain to the slackers that put this awful transfer on the market.
on June 11, 2003
First saw this movie when it came out. Went to see it with a group of friends. After the movie we went to an all night coffee shop and talked about the film and how it related to our lives until the sun came up. This film made me laugh, contemplate life then cry at the end when Andre talks about how one day his son was just a little boy and before he knew it, he saw his grown adult son standing before him and he wonders, where did that young child go? Where did that time go?
This film is not for everyone. Have watched this film with people who wondered when the two characters were going to finish dinner, and when would the action pick up? Other people were left in the dark because they had never read "The Little Prince" and had no idea what Andre was talking about when he referred to the book. However, if you are someone who questions life and looks to find meaning or purpose in your life, you will be pleasantly surprised. At the end of the movie, I always need to talk with friends and loved ones about the issues that are always raised watching this film. For me, this is a film I have watched yearly (usually more) because it allows me to concentrate on what really is and is not important in life. This movie always puts life and all the "things" that happen in my life back, into perspective.
Although Andre's adventures seem rather abstract at times, he eventually brings the conversation to a point where Wallace Shaw can understand what he is saying because he starts using examples and situations in every day life. He explains that you don't have to go to Tibet to meditate or be buried alived for the night in Poland to truly experience life and what it is all about.
This is, by far, my favorite film and will always be my favorite film. Watching this movie is a gift I give to myself.