Ivano De Matteo • Director
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Ivano de Matteo, the director of Gli equilibristi, is back at Venice with The Dinner, a film about two families that are thrown off-balance by a silly stunt carried out by their respective children, based on the book La Cena by Herman Koch.
Cineuropa: What struck you most in the book that the movie is based on?
Ivano de Matteo: We already had the idea, with my partner, to write something about this topic. Then I read the book The Dinner and I was really struck by that. That simple, cold story moved me and that’s what I wanted to deal with in the movie: that cold, icy perspective from outside. I kept the structure and that simple question as the basis: what would you do if it happened to you? I omitted some things from the book that didn’t suit my movie, the nation itself in which it was set had different complex issues, and I changed the two brothers, a prime minister and a secondary school teacher, and I made them a criminal lawyer and a doctor. That’s how we came up with the initial prologue, that terrible accident, after which we meet the two brothers, the two families. Then almost half way through the movie, the event happens, and that’s where the stories become intertwined, like a figure eight.
What else did you change in relation to the book?
In the book there were flashbacks: of their children, of them during the incident and of them at dinner. I thought of broadening the focus. The book is set entirely in a restaurant, so it was necessary to open up the story and go back to the past. There were two or three points that I wanted to remove: for instance, the serious genetic illness that the protagonist of the book had, which was passed on to the son. It was kind of like justifying the deed, i.e. the son had done this because he was ill. I removed that part, because it’s something that can happen to anyone, no matter what social class or where they come from. They’re middle class but they could also have been working class. It’s not a critique of the middle class. It’s just a cold analysis. I liked the way that violence was described in the book, with an ice filter, as if pain and violence were natural. It’s like a freezing cold shower, the characters remain immobile, all we see are micro movements, there’s no hyperbole. I also worked on changing and transforming the characters: at times we seem a certain way, and then our other side emerges. We all have masks, which I like to pull off. And when certain things happen, we’re all more or less the same.
How does your approach to family change here in relation to your previous movies?
In Beautiful People, it was an external factor that broke up, or, at least, stymied the seemingly strong machinery (of the united family) which instead turned out to be extremely fragile. In Balancing Act, on the other hand, it was an element from within the family nucleus that emerged and froze the inner workings of the family. In this case, it’s an event that causes the implosion/explosion of the family. A tragic event that might seem like a mere stunt: when we were young we all escaped tragedy by the skin of our teeth, perhaps without even realizing it. Walking across a bridge drunk, killing someone… Disaster is always waiting to strike, and that worries me a lot, as my kids are approaching the pre-teen age. So, that fear is also mine to an extent.
And what would you do if you were the parents in the movie?
I don’t think I can answer that because I haven’t experience that. One can always make moral or revolutionary assumptions. Straight up, I’d say that I couldn’t expose my son. I hope it never happens because then everything changes. When serious things come into play like the police and reporting, you turn into a block of ice and you speak softly and slowly, you don’t say much, you try to do what’s right, because a wave of things creep up on you; your past and what will happen to you in the future also. It’s very difficult to answer that.