The drama happening at a table of four diners (two married couples) – and the attendant conversation and psychological warfare – is at the core of the movie “The Dinner,” directed by Italian Ivano De Matteo.
This is the second recent loose adaptation of the best-selling 2009 novel of the same name by Dutch author Herman Koch.
“The Dinner,” is subtitled and is in Italian: The setting is Rome. The film’s Italian title, “I Nostri Ragazzi,” denotes another implication of the adapted literary narrative; translated it means “our children,” touching on the couples’ offspring, who are at the center of the film’s most harrowing conversation.
That reservation, and subsequent swelling, at-table violence, follows a horrific act possibly committed by the couples’ children, captured on surveillance camera and broadcast on a popular television crime show.
The four characters at table (two brothers and their wives) have dressed and prepped for the meal featuring haute cuisine and heightened hackles.
The restaurant, viewers learn, has been the setting for familial visits for a decade, chosen by one of the brothers (the defense attorney) wielding spending power over his sibling (the pediatric surgeon).
Roman actor and writer Alessandro Gassman plays Massimo, the lawyer with an initial unlikable chill about him.
Luigi Lo Cascio is Paolo, the bearded, more sensitive brother who is treating a child victimized in the movie’s opening scene involving road rage gone lethal.
Massimo’s client, jailed, is the cop who has killed a driver in that scene. A young patient of Paolo’s is the young boy injured and traumatized, passenger and witness. It is this fate, violence and outcome that illustrates the brothers’ long-simmering loathing of one another.
Massimo’s wife, outsider Sofia, is played by voluptuous Slovak actor Barbora Bobulova and has the sole, gratuitous nude moment on screen.
Mesmerizing Giovanna Mezzogiorno, star of Italian stage and screen, is Clara, whose horror, and subsequent defense, of son Michele (performed by acne-ridden Jacopo Olmo Antinori) that drives much of the drama.
It is Michele’s screen addiction that creates the sense that this teen (given universal witness to teen violence via mass media), in such self-isolation, might indeed be capable of the beating of a homeless woman, called “a tramp” by Michele and his first cousin Benedetta/Benny.
Benny, played with detached precision by Rosabell Laurenti Sellers, is sublime in a scene with her defense attorney father in his posh office, a dramatic turning point in the film.
Koch’s narrative is commentary on modern human detachment, self-isolation into what is commonly referred to as “screen time.” Each character in “The Dinner” is absorbed in devices that take one out of the present: cellphones and televisions are means to escape.
Those who love movies set in big cities will enjoy some fleeting scenes of gorgeous Rome. Much of the movie, however, takes place within confined interior spaces. Staircases and long shots down corridors are recurrent visual devices as characters grapple with their altering realities.
Director of Photography Vittorio Omodei Zorini creates masterfully framed moments, at times playing with depth-of-field illustrating characters’ psychological grappling. Artwork featured in the apartments of the families is a visual treat, each corner filled with loveliness meant to show the families’ status.
The final scene happens outside of the restaurant with an obscured view from a large window offering only aural witness: It is violent, ambiguous and haunting. “The Dinner,” its characters and discrete social commentary will linger for days to come.