My Dinner With Andre

My Dinner With Andre is a film about a meal, a conversation and the two men who share them.

From this winningly simple concept, subtleties and surprises emerge, making the film a far less straightforward – and far more enduring – experience than it first appears.

Wally is an under-employed playwright who enjoys the simple pleasures of his content, if anxious, life in 1980s New York.

Out of the blue, he hears from an old friend, and – reluctantly rupturing his comfortable routine – agrees to dinner.

The friend is Andre Gregory: a theatre director who has been off-grid for some years, travelling the world in search of increasingly esoteric sensory and existential experiences.

Their catch-up gradually becomes an unpredictably wayfaring discussion of the Big Questions concerning life, meaning and existence.

This remarkably uncluttered film is modulated by sly shifts in tone.

At first, Andre relates his wacky experiences with the pious self-interest of a student back from a gap year, and Wally is all ears. But then the backgrounds to Andre’s desire for self-discovery are probed, and even ridiculed.

His pseudo-spiritualism oscillates between exasperating and compelling. The film’s own judgement becomes grippingly elusive.

A steady background thrum of irony is ensured by the restaurant setting: Wally and Andre decry Western social conventions and middle-class manners as they tuck into their quail and waiters bring out coffee and Amarettos.

At one point, Andre describes a building he encountered in the Scottish experimental community of Findhorn, designed so that the roof might lift off in case of alien contact.

Louis Malle’s film seems to have similar potential built into its sparse, visible architecture: a down-to-earth structure with a miraculous capacity for transcendent lift.

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