My Dinner with André
In this captivating and philosophical film directed by Louis Malle, actor and playwright Wallace Shawn sits down with his friend the theater director André Gregory at a restaurant on New York’s Upper West Side, and the pair proceed through an alternately whimsical and despairing confessional about love, death, money, and all the superstition in between. Playing variations on their own New York–honed personas, Shawn and Gregory, who also cowrote the screenplay, dive in with introspective intellectual gusto, and Malle captures it all with a delicate, artful detachment. A fascinating freeze-frame of cosmopolitan culture, My Dinner with André remains a unique work in cinema history.
Louis Malle’s My Dinner with Andre gets a Blu-ray upgrade from Criterion, who again present the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1. The new high-definition presentation is given to us in 1080p/24hz and comes from a 2K restoration scanned from the original 16mm A/B negative.
It appears Criterion is simply giving us the full high-def version of the same transfer used for the DVD, but it does offer a very noticeable improvement. The DVD’s transfer still looked grainy but it’s obvious Criterion did try to manage that, which isn’t a surprise: on DVD film grain can look like a hot mess so Criterion eased up the grain on that release, smoothing it out a bit, though not completely obliterating it. Criterion gives it to us in all of its glory here and it actually comes off unexpectedly well. Screen grabs aren’t going to do full justice here I feel: the film is very grainy and still shots are probably going to look a bit fuzzy or give the idea there is heavy noise, and neither case is true. In motion, as the grain moves, it looks rather natural and I didn’t feel any unnatural issues arose.
Since Criterion has taken it easy on grain management here all of the details of the film come through clearly. The textures of Shawn’s jacket are so much clearer here in long shots, the detail of which is lost in the DVD, and the same can be said of the textures of Gregory’s sweater. The colour palette is limited, but the film starts and ends with some rich blues on display, and the remaining colours, despite the image looking to be blown out a teeny bit, look clean and natural. Black levels are excellent and I didn’t feel anything was getting crushed out.
I’m sure many will complain about the film’s grain level, which is again very heavy, but this didn’t bother me at all. It really looks like a true representation of a 16mm presentation. It’s natural and very filmic, a nice little surprise.
Audio is presented in lossless PCM 1.0 mono. The film is just two characters chatting for a couple of hours, so it’s obviously not the most dynamic presentation. Still, having said that I still found the audio presents dialogue that sounds rather natural and clear, and it lacks any background noise or damage. For what the film calls for it’s perfect.
Criterion ports over everything from their original 2-disc DVD.
The first supplement is an hour long interview with André Gregory and Wallace Shawn conducted by Noah Baumbach and filmed exclusively for Criterion. Unfortunately the two have been filmed separately, Gregory interviewed at what I am guessing is his home, and Shawn in what I am guessing is the Criterion office. You can watch both interviews together or watch each one individually, though the Gregory interview will still run into the Shawn interview. Gregory gets 31-minutes of the interview, while Shawn gets the remaining 29.
I rather enjoyed these interviews, though it may have been better if the two were together. The two reflect on first meeting at one of Gregory’s plays, and then talk about the writing of the script for My Dinner with André and then getting it made. Gregory actually may be the better of the two interview subjects, coming off more loose and more like he’s enjoying himself, while Shawn almost feels a little more stand offish, but it could come down to the fact I think Baumbach was asking Gregory better questions. Shawn spends more time talking about the writing of the film and the material in the conversations but Gregory talks more of the overall production. He jokes about how they figured it would probably end up being a TV movie or a movie that only their friends would see (neither were probably prepared for just how popular it would become.) They also talk about their characters somewhat, where Gregory was playing a character based on himself while Shawn was playing a character he says he felt different from. Also another interesting little tidbit was that Mike Nichols was first approached about doing the film but he said he was unavailable. Malle was the one that ended up contacting them about directing (Gregory got the call and thought it was a joke.) While it’s a talking heads interview Baumbach and crew get a little more creative at least, setting up the shooting style similar to that of My Dinner with André’s making it a little less stale than similar features. Overall I rather liked this feature and it was a treat catching up with the two. But as I said earlier I still feel it’s a shame the two weren’t recorded together.
The second and final disc feature is My Dinner with Louis, a 1982 episode from a BBC program called Arena, featuring an interview between director Louis Malle and actor/writer Wallace Shawn. And of course this interview is done inside a restaurant. It’s a mildly interesting supplement with its biggest flaw being that it’s made up more of film clips than interview. In it Malle briefly goes over his career with Shawn, talking briefly about the controversy that surrounds some of his work including The Lovers and his documentary Phantom India, which got the BBC kicked out of the country. The rest of the interview has Malle talk about a few of his films, including Lacombe, Lucien, Murmur of the Heart, Atlantic City, and, of course, My Dinner with André. One of the more interesting aspects, Malle’s work as a cameraman for Jacques Cousteau, is only briefly mentioned. It’s a decent enough piece, though feels a bit fluffy.
Criterion includes a 28-page booklet that seems to perfectly replicate the booklet that came with the DVD, right down to the illusion of the booklet being a beat up script, right down to coffee stains and the typeface rubbing off on the opposite page. It first features the same essay by Amy Taubin, followed by the introductions by Gregory and Shawn that prefaced the screenplay and both of which are fun reads. This was a strong inclusion with the DVD so I’m glad Criterion didn’t dump it for a standard insert.
Though it still feels pretty slim and a bit underwhelming, I still enjoyed the supplements, particularly the Gregory/Shawn interview.
A nice upgrade that delivers a far stronger image in comparison to the DVD, with its only fault possibly being that it doesn’t upgrade the slim number of supplements at all. At the very least, though, they’re still worth going through.