It Was Mother

It Was How

It Was Here
Wayras Olivier
MARCH 2018

H ERE IS A SENTENCE that gives people a fifty-fifty chance of making heads or tails of it when it lands. It’s from Ingmar Bergman’s Autumn Sonata and goes like this, “I could always live in my art but never in my life.” The sentence itself has been the subject of many other great films such as 8½, Le Mépris, and Mulholland Drive, and is, as it were, a sentence that advocates sensitivity training for you know who—the unable. Actually, there is a legitimate problem here to be worked out. On one side, the average citizen unable to empathize with the artist who is unable to adjust to the common hours of day-to-day living, and on the other side, the artist who is unable to empathize with the average citizen’s idea that sensitivity is just another term for common sense.

Perhaps Dogme Ninety-Five rings a bell along with that spurious reflex to repress one’s contrarian attitude about the movement’s “Vows of Chastity.” The movement’s supposed genius was that it was sensitive towards the perennial values of story, theme, and acting, and thus forbade filmmakers to use special effects, ancillary lighting, dollies or cranes, and non-diegetic music. Distractions, in other words, that prevented the filmmaker from focusing on his or her primary duty of expelling banality and superficiality from the art of filmmaking. Other than The Celebration, anyone who had common sense could not deny that indeed each piece the movement expelled into the theatre was fresh but not solid as it would have dawned on them that they had just allowed a sensitive person to trick them into buying a seat inside an outhouse. Lars Von Trier (the movement’s founder) would have benefited from watching My Dinner with Andre to see that a film with unusual form may be hard to push out but it can still make a splash without falling into the Bristol Stool Scale.

The film, (which takes place in one location) is about a sensitive theatre director, Andre (Andre Gregory) who is reduced to tears upon recalling Bergman’s “I could always live in my art but never in my life.” His estranged and equally sensitive playwright friend Wally (Wallace Shawn) agrees to meet him for dinner whereat the film captures, in one sitting, their competing views on the meaning of life in 1981. They examine, among many things, our compulsion to be absorbed by the artifacts we create, which makes us less authentic (something a majority of the current TED talks assume is a new subject as they bemoan how the digital revolution has created ‘social utensils’ that can cause us to feel isolated and fragmented if they are not used correctly).

I could always live at my dinner table but never in my life, sums this film up just fine. As it is here where we are first taught to mind our manners. “Manners,” Emily Post once wrote, “are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.”