REAL TALK | My Dinner With Andre

Mysterious lapses quietly but potently mark the unreality (or the particular reality) of the film. By Louis Rogers


Wally and Andre are chewing over the big questions at Manhattan’s Café des Artistes. How should you live a life? How can you truly experience it? And also: where? Andre has been travelling across the world – Tibet, Japan, Poland, Scotland, India – engaging in rituals and social experiments, while Wally has stayed in New York, the city where he was born, trying to write his plays. “Is Mount Everest more real than New York?” demands Wally in exasperation, “Isn’t New York real? Isn’t there just as much reality to be perceived in the cigar store next door as on Mount Everest?” 

Their conversation ranges across a whole terrain of philosophical questions – but Wally and Andre’s search for understanding of their selves and the world comes down to this issue of reality. They are arguing over, and trying to determine, what the psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott called “feeling real”. “Feeling real is more than existing,” Winnicott wrote. “It is finding a way to exist as oneself, and to relate to objects as oneself, and to have a self into which to retreat for relaxation.”

But there’s another kind of reality they are inhabiting, one that complicates their debate: that of the film. My Dinner With Andre takes place almost entirely over the course of one meal; it appears to take place in what we call “real time”. In fact, this is not quite true. As the pair take their seats, Wally’s voice-over tells us they caught up about their respective families and jobs before beginning the conversation we witness – but there is no cut, and the voice-over covers a brief exchange nowhere near as long as the one Wally describes. Then, at the end of their conversation, the men look up to find an empty restaurant from which all the other diners departed “hours ago” – even though the film’s (and the meal’s) duration has been not quite two hours. 

These mysterious lapses quietly but potently mark the unreality (or the particular reality) of the film. Could it be that this apparently mundane and intelligible situation is more like one of the arcane theatrical experiments in which Andre finds his reality? Perhaps, as Winnicott suggests, the film implies that reality is something relational, formed in the encounter of these two people and their two viewpoints. There’s evidence enough in the way this simplest piece of cinema feels so full-blooded and particular, memorable but hard to parse: it is itself a piece of – in Lee Friedlander’s words – “intractable reality”.

 

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