Jay Hoffmann

Books, movies, and code

My Dinner with Andre (1981)

Deeply affecting, there is something that is so transformational about this film, which refuses to be anything but visually static and emotionally moving. It was a film that draws you into moments, as Wally bumps off of Andre as he embarks on yet another pretentious tangent in yet another cultural context. But it is all so damn uninteresting, and personal, and visceral and emotional.

The visual style anchors the whole thing. The reflections inside reflections. The move from the medium, to the medium close, to the close-up. The subtle pans and cutaways. For a filmic language stripped to basically a few basic elements, every single shot has a purpose. Every frame means something. Louis Malle found the best way to film a play, and he has yet to be copied.

But really, it comes back to the draw of the stories and the storytellers. Roger Ebert, writing about the film after having seen it several times over the years.

What “My Dinner With Andre” exploits is the well-known ability of the mind to picture a story as it is being told. Both Shawn and Gregory are born storytellers, and as they talk we see their faces, but we picture much more: Andre being buried alive, and a monk lifting himself by his fingertips, and fauns cavorting in a forest. And Wally trudging around to agents with his plays, and happily having dinner with Debbie, and, yes, enjoying Heston’s autobiography. We see all of these things so vividly that “My Dinner With Andre” never, ever, becomes a static series of two shots and closeups, but seems only precariously anchored to that restaurant, and in imminent

Stray Observations

  • Criterion has a good frame of reference and summary
  • Beginning with the inner monologue of Wally helps to anchor everything. We know what he is quietly thinking (and judging) in the first half of the film.
  • The horror and absurdity of the buried alive story as Malle pushes in tight with the camera for the first time, about halfway through 
  • “I really feel like everything I’ve done is horrific”
  • “I mean, we live in a world in which fathers or single people or artists are all trying to live up to someone’s fantasy of how a father or a single person or an artist should look and behave.”
  • As a New Yorker, this rings horribly true: “I think that New York is the new model for the new concentration camp, where the camp has been built by the inmates themselves, and the inmates are the guards, and they have this pride in this thing that they’ve built—they’ve built their own prison—and so they exist in a state of schizophrenia where they are both guards and prisoners. And as a result they no longer have—having been lobotomized—the capacity to leave the prison they’ve made or even to see it as a prison.”
  • The 1960s was the last burst of a real human being
  • Andre’s theories on globally centralized networks of totalitarian control through capitalism isn’t far off from modern conspiracy theories.
  • “I just don’t think I feel I need anything more than this.” Here, here Wally.
  • Wally is the erratic modern man and Andre is tethered to a fictionalized old world 

Well, have a real relationship with a person that goes on for years, that’s completely unpredictable. Then you’ve cut off all your ties to the land and you’re sailing into the unknown, into uncharted seas. I mean, you know, people hold on to these images: father, mother, husband, wife, again for the same reason: ’cause they seem to provide some firm ground. But there’s no wife there. What does that mean, a wife? A husband? A son? A baby holds your hands and then suddenly there’s this huge man lifting you off the ground, and then he’s gone. Where’s that son?”