Wednesday, December 26, 2012

My dinner with Andre

You must come yourself, you must not believe in fairy-tales,
the girl waits on, she is sleeping there, amidst roses.

(a translation excerpt from an old Czech song)

Shawn, who is having dinner with Andre, will rather have the GPS to do the finding of the girl, even if his reason-dominated self will admit, reluctantly, that the princess is sleeping somewhere in a bed of roses: he prefers the security of a nice book in hand, of a cup of cold coffee in which no cockroach has found his way, and of the order that science brings to his life, so he can know things he ought to believe in and things he ought not to. He is simple and he wants simplicity: even if it means being dead, being smug, being shut off to the possibility of visions, dreams and madness. He wants to pay bills and keep shuttling in metrolines so that he can have that simple sensual pleasure of a cup of coffee in early morning. Life is already abrasive, in that you have to wait for that cold cup of coffee and that inspirational morning, and then it's not always that a roach hasn't found his way in it: but that occasional, even rare, appearance of such a perfect morning is the electric blanket that keeps him happy, hardworking, struggling.

Andre is open to the romance, the adventure of life, or so he thinks; a bit too much happy with himself, one suspects. He wants to live every single moment, he wants to feel a lifelong thrill: and so he experiments with bizarre-sounding theatre techniques and New Age communities. He does see the electric blanket as that another instance of a technological product that has alienated man from reality; just like I find the same thing happening with numerous people who travel with earphones stuck in their ears, or even reading books and magazines on train journeys. I often wonder without these books and their mobile phones playing music into their ears, what would they be doing? Half of them, sleeping, which many are still, but the rest? But Andre is the active fellow: he wants to somehow live every moment thrillingly, with huge emotions, not realizing that in that case it is the experience of emotions that is being deadened - and that's why he already is numbed. Just like people are deadened to the sun and the wind and the trees and a true love, for it is there, forever. They scorn, 'don't you ever change? how can you love me forever? don't you see I have changed, so how can you now love me?'

Shawn thinks that for all his talk of alienation from reality, it is Andre who is going far from reality: isn't his coffee cup reality? Aren't those streets and shops with which hundreds of recollections are associated in his mind, aren't those his reality? For Andre, it's Shawn who's living in a mechanical, far-from-real world: he's going about in suburban trains without really thinking, he's chewing food without feeling the pleasure of every morsel. Somewhere in between, the coffee is merely being sipped, drunk: only when he is beginning that cup and when finishing it, for it is finishing, then he feels what all the coffee means to him. But, in between, he has slipped into the mechanical act of drinking. And, as per Andre, anything mechanical is dead. He wants to break the monotony of everything, including existing: hence, he would go and eat sand in the deserts of Sahara.

Almost a 2-hour-long conversation between two people unable to come to grips with modern Western society's alienation, increasingly becoming the norm throughout the world, as democracy, technology, and individualism take over (I place them in the order in which I think one has led to the other), the film doesn't delve into high-flying philosophical terms: it's not a Godard film, thankfully, but a Louis Malle film. There is no action, except the conversation happening between the two of them at a posh restaurant table: one does wonder what object does the conversation have. Andre is bent on praising himself, and he does not seem to be too receptive to Shawn's loud-pitched objections. The waiter is bent on doing his job with 'dignity', and he does a great job as the intermittent third actor in the film.

A stunning film, My dinner with Andre has often bore the criticism that no use of the cinematic medium is being made as nothing is happening except two people talking to each other and that anyone could just place a camera and direct this film: my answer is simply that, well, no one did, till Malle came along. Like Columbus' egg or Holmes' deductions, some of the simplest things are also some of the most ingenious and brilliant, often.