By Richard Winters
My Rating: 5 out of 10
4-Word Review: Talking can be interesting.
Rare is a film that can be categorized as being daring by what it doesn’t do than by what it does yet this is a film that fits that instance. This is a story about two old friends (Wallace Shawn, Andre Gregory) who meet at a fancy restaurant and have a long, pleasant conversation. That’s it. No big revelations, no cutaways, no side story, no fights, no jokes, and certainly no added cinematic effects. The men merely have the same type of conversation that two educated men on the same intellectual level might also have. Then after two hours they call it a night and go home.
Does this mean that this is a poor or boring movie? No, not really. Sometimes the best directing is just the guts to stick with a concept that is unusual. That is what Louis Malle does here and you have to give him credit. On its own simple terms it actually does succeed. One’s mind certainly does wander at times, but somehow you never lose complete interest. The simple framing and editing are actually effective.
The two stars are competent for what they are doing yet they do not seem to be the best of actors. At times they seem to be simply mouthing their lines and there is no nuance in their delivery. Gregory has a nice deep, resonate voice that almost seems like a radio announcers. He does most of the talking so at least he is pleasant to the ears. Shawn is the exact opposite. His voice is screechy and annoying. Yet he does supply an engaging voice-over narrative at the beginning, which is so fun you wished they had kept it going throughout.
The idea of following a real, genuine conversation is a good one. Sometimes it is interesting to observe all the threads a conversation between any group of people takes. However the conversation here isn’t real. It is clearly scripted out and that hurts it. The first hour is especially poor. It consists mainly of Gregory talking about some wild, fantastical experiences of his. It comes-of as forced and extended. Having some cutaways throughout his talking would have helped because a lot of what he talks about is very visual.
The second hour is better because Shawn gets more involved and they have a real discussion. The topics are more expansive and philosophical. They range from how one perceives reality to the very essence of our being. Of course anyone with some existential friends could have the same conversation, but at least it makes the film more stimulating.
In the end this is an interesting experiment that halfway succeeds. It would have helped had the two men, who seem to be playing themselves anyway, been allowed to have a more natural and impromptu discussion. Even adding a few more people into the mix wouldn’t have hurt. They could have also given it just a little bit more of a visual flair. Although watching the very good way that they listen to one another is a sight in itself. Their listening skills are so good that it almost seems unreal. It is unfortunate that everyone can’t have these same types of skills
My Rating: 5 out of 10
Released: October 11, 1981
Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes
Director: Louis Malle
Studio: New Yorker Films
Available: VHS, DVD (The Criterion Collection), Amazon Instant Video