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'My Dinner with Andre': The Antidote to Summer Movie Overdose

Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory talk over dinner in 'My Dinner With Andre'

hide captionWallace Shawn and Andre Gregory talk over dinner in 'My Dinner With Andre'

Courtesy of the Criterion Collection

If the world were at all fair, or even moderately discerning, Michael Bay would not be a movie director at all. Instead, he would be where he belongs, as technical supervisor of an industrial demolitions crew, blowing stuff up for a living. As is stands, however, Mike is still making "movies" such as the new Transformers sequel, which if I have my notes right, is actually titled Transformers: Assaulting Your Senses for 147 Minutes.

Summer action blockbusters, with their aggressive FX and frantic editing, are migraines waiting to happen. If you're looking to go the other way for an evening, may I suggest the new Criterion edition of My Dinner with Andre, director Louis Malle's 1981 indie triumph. Here's a movie that more or less does the impossible: It consists entirely of two friends having a quiet conversation over dinner, and it's riveting.

What the new release can give you, and what's been in the movie all along, after the jump...

The film features Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory, who also wrote the script, playing characters named "Wallace Shawn" and "Andre Gregory." Shawn, both in character and in real life, is a struggling New York playwright and character actor. Gregory, similarly, is a successful Broadway director portraying a successful Broadway director.

The actors don't just play themselves, however. Rather, they play versions or aspects of themselves, exaggerated for dramatic and comic effect. Gregory, or "Gregory," has just returned from a five-year global walkabout, seeking spiritual enlightenment. He invites his old colleague and friend, Shawn, to dinner at an upscale New York restaurant.

And that's it. The rest of the movie features the two men sharing an intimate conversation. But what a conversation it is! Gregory, who does most of the talking, is impassioned and articulate. Shawn, more inhibited that his old friend, mostly asks questions — until the end, when his own turbulent feelings pour out.

Much of the pleasure of the film is simply drifting along with their conversation. Let yourself fall into its rhythms, and marvel at how utterly evocative the spoken word can be. When Gregory describes his experiences — wandering through Tibet, dancing in the woods of Poland — the visuals conjured in your mind are more vivid than anything you will ever see on the screen. Watch how director Malle (Au revoir les infants) uses mirrors, or when he chooses to turn up the volume on ambient noise. Everything is deliberate and carefully composed.

So, yeah, if you want a break from all the summer bombast, My Dinner with Andre is out this week in a fabulous new two-disc package, with a beautifully restored high-definition digital transfer, in the original 1.66:1 aspect ratio, and remastered sound. The second disc consists of new, exclusive interviews with Gregory and Shawn by filmmaker Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale), discussing the fascinating genesis of the film.

If nothing else, you can enjoy how the camera stays still, how the average shot length isn't 1.2 seconds, and how the director refrains from detonating anything.

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