Getting to know your children at The Dinner
by Vittoria Scarpa
- VENICE 2014: Ivano De Matteo delves into the lives of two middle-class families recovering from the shock of a stupid stunt carried out by their respective children, ending in tragedy
How well do we know our children? And if your child committed a crime, what would you do? Ivano De Matteo asks these questions in his new film, The Dinner [+see also:
interview: Ivano De Matteo
film profile], presented in the Venice Days at the 71st Venice Film Festival. Yet again, following La bella gente [+see also:
film profile] and Gli equilibristi [+see also:
film profile], the Roman director delves into a family and deconstructs their very foundations. But while in his two previous films it was an external element that disturbed the serenity of an apparently contented family unit, here the disruption results from within that very same unit. Actually, from two of them.
In The Dinner, there are two families: that of Paolo (Luigi Lo Cascio), a busy and upstanding paediatrician who has a solid, close relationship with his wife, Clara (Giovanna Mezzogiorno); and that of his brother Massimo (Alessandro Gassman), an acclaimed lawyer who is married for the second time, to Sofia (Barbora Bobulova), and well known for defending the indefensible. Their respective teenage children, Michele (Jacopo Olmo Antinori) and Benedetta (Rosabell Laurenti Sellers), are cousins who get on like a house on fire: they are always together, watching off-the-wall webseries on YouTube or heading out to alcohol-fuelled parties. And it ends up being precisely at the end of one of these parties that the worst will happen. As the two teens are on their way home, drunk, they beat the living daylights out of a homeless woman by the roadside. A CCTV camera captures everything, and the images then begin to circulate.
The discovery of this video hits the two families like a bucket of cold water in the face. “After reading the book by Herman Koch (The Dinner, which the film is loosely based on – ed), I was bowled over by the indifference with which the story is told,” explains De Matteo, “and that’s what I wanted to recreate in my film: the characters are devastated by this event, but there is never any hyperbole.” The parents of the two culprits thus find themselves faced with a dramatic dilemma: should they report their own children or protect them? And to what extent can we ignore our conscience just to protect our happiness?
The film therefore starts to play games with the audience’s expectations, each character reacts in the opposite way to how you would expect them to, and the roles become reversed. “The difference between what we actually are and the image of ourselves that we build up day after day is really very profound,” remarks the director. In the same way, the image we have of our children can be just as different: “Michele wouldn’t harm a fly,” says Paolo staunchly, and instead his Michele is actually a little brute; “And then Benni is a girl,” he adds in defence of his niece, and instead this girl did what she did and shows not a single shred of remorse. The strength of De Matteo’s film is in the question mark it raises: a question that every parent could ask him or herself, even though there is no real response to it. And you? What would you do in their shoes?
(Translated from Italian)