by E. Ladd
Originally debuting at the 71st Venice International Film Festival, where it won four awards including Best European Film, Ivano De Matteo’s Italian drama The Dinner (I Nostri Ragazzi) opens this weekend at Buffalo’s North Park Theatre.
The film begins on the streets of Rome, Italy with a rage-fueled driver chasing down another car whose inhabitant is on his cell phone, a factor that may have almost caused an accident at a previous stoplight. The angered driver verbally assaults the man on his phone and eventually pulls alongside him where, despite the pleas of his young son and passenger, he jumps out of his vehicle with a baseball bat in order to attack the other car. The abrupt and violent culmination of this series of events, all within the three minute opening sequence of the film, sets the tone and establishes the relationships between the main characters about whom the rest of the story revolves.
Hospital pediatrician Paolo Lauri (Luigi Lo Cascio) and his lawyer brother Massimo Lauri (Alessandro Gassman) regularly meet once a month with their wives at a fancy restaurant where Massimo always foots the bill. There is a deep-seated rivalry and resentment between the brothers and an obvious and mutual dislike between the wives, Paolo’s Clara (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) and Massimo’s Sofia (Barbora Babulova). But hey, family is family and additionally, their teenage children: Paolo’s son Michele (Jacopo Olmo Antinori) and Massimo’s daughter Benedetta (Rosabell Laurenti Sellers) are very close and spend a lot of time together. Too much time, perhaps, because after attending a party together one evening, security footage appears on a local crime TV program that shows two teenagers engaging in a seriously troubling and violent act.
If you’ve watched 2011’s Carnage, Roman Polanski’s intimate character study about feuding parents, or Tilda Swinton in We Need To Talk About Kevin (also from 2011), you’ll recognize a similar pervasive vibe. This particular film is based on Dutch author Herman Koch’s bestseller The Dinner, which all takes place at one dinner meeting between the parents of two boys who committed a heinous crime. Director Matteo took some liberties with his film version of the novel, changing the teenagers to a boy and a girl (although, side note, this is confusing when it comes to the Italian translation as it was shown at festivals because “I Nostri Ragazzi” translates to “Our Boys”), and stretching out the story to include different characters and scenes leading up to the final dinner discussion.
What I really like about this film is how you change your mind about the characters presented. Who is really “good”, who is really moral? What would you do in a similar situation if you suddenly discovered that your children might actually be sociopathic little monsters? These are affluent people, living in one of the world’s most beautiful cities, with their sprawling, sleek, ultra modern luxury apartments, architecture, and accoutrements, giving off the appearance of being so civilized, cultured, and decent...and yet, who are they really? It’s beautifully filmed. I’m a sucker for long takes, moving and sweeping camera shots, what can I say? Plus, the acting is first rate. It’s an interesting film. It may seem a little too drawn out during certain scenes, or too jumpy in others, but it still packs a punch.
Watch the trailer for The Dinner
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