Although I became aware of the film years ago, I wasn’t compelled to see Andre until it was expertly skewered by Community, one of my favourite Netflix shows. If you know the movie or the show, look up the episode Critical Film Studies. If you don’t, at least look up Community, and consider my thoughts on the film, which we began watching last night…
The first half of My Dinner With Andre was so pretentious and boring, we had to stop watching. We never do this. A movie is meant to be watched and judged in its entirety, and we adhere to that in all our cinematic viewing. So it was quite a surprise to both of us that we couldn’t make it through a movie rated 90% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.
You see, the first act consists mostly of Andre talking and Wally listening, as their food is delivered and taken away by a gruff waiter. As I pondered why we couldn’t take it any longer, I wondered how I could be so gripped by Beckett’s Waiting for Godot – a play about two tramps, in which nothing happens, twice – but yet find Andre so dull.
I realized it was down to tension. In Godot, the drama is provided by the constant hope of his arrival and the banter back and forth between the two main characters. The first half of Andre meanwhile felt completely lacking in tension – for the first hour we were, like Wally, simply listening to Andre bang on about ridiculous, pretentious things he’s done.
There’s no back and forth, Andre answers all his own questions without ever actually getting to the crux of anything. He’s all surface and superficiality, despite his apparent hatred of such things. There’s no sense of tension or drama at all. Just confusion and boredom for the viewer, reflected aptly in Wally’s perplexed face.
A day later and we felt bad for abandoning Andre halfway through. We made a point of watching the rest, and I’m really glad we did – the second act turned out to be far better than the first, and again it was all about the tension.
In this half, there was more tension and it actually grew as the movie went on. Wally begins to question Andre, tearing through the stories Andre has told throughout the dinner.
At first Wally is good-natured in his criticism, but he grows maddeningly frustrated with Andre, as he disputes his philosophies and questions whether it is even possible to reconcile such notions with his own banal life.
As I write this, I realize it is Wally’s questioning forces them to debate the very core of what it means to be alive. And while I thought it was Andre’s behaviour that was so dull in the first half, I realize now it was Wally’s lack of reaction that led to the deadening boredom.
This of course completely illustrates Andre’s later, bigger point – that if we don’t react and deliberate, if instead we just passively, mechanically act the part, we are dead inside. It’s a brave director who decides to kill off the whole first half of his movie just to make a point in the second…bravo Louis Malle.
Clearly, Andre is not a film for everyone – I love exploring the existential arguments of Sartre, Beckett et al and even I had to abandon Andre on my first viewing.
And sure, it’s 2013 and anyone who’s ever been the last one left at a party has had some form of the conversation expressed here.
But My Dinner With Andre remains a unique cinematic portrayal of this conversation and definitely has more to it than initially meets the eye. And I suspect repeat viewings – and some background reading – might prove somewhat rewarding.