Het Diner/The Dinner

het diner

Amazingly, Dutch film The Dinner has no characters that I liked, just one that I could pity, yet managed to keep me fascinated. Paul, the main character, has been out of work for years. His insertion of extreme political ideas in his history classes cost him his job. In contrast, his brother Serge is a successful politician on the verge of running for Prime Minister. The film centers on a dinner the brothers and their wives have so they can discuss how to deal with a troubling YouTube video of their sons harassing a homeless woman.

Paul narrates the film and offers some background on what happened to his family that influenced his son to get him to this place, how Paul’s temper and prejudices surfaced when he tried to repay a shop owner whose window his son broke and how he reacts to the principal who called him to discuss the extreme ideas his son used in an essay.

The dinner at a chic restaurant, that Paul could never afford, suspense and tension builds and slowly the nature of the son’s crime gets revealed. The characters surprise with their responses that I’d never have predicted. It’s a thoroughly modern film that grabbed my attention and held it.

I Live in Fear

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Kurosawa’s I Live in Fear (1955) drew me with the first scene when a dentist mentions he’s a judge for the local family court. Family court in Japan? This is bound to be interesting. At family court, where in 1955 Japan three men from the neighborhood and a silent woman (the secretary?), hear the cases of family disputes. In this case adult children want to have Kiichi Nakajima, their father, ruled incompetent because his fear of subsequent atomic bombings compels him to move his family, wife, grown children and their spouses and his mistresses and children by them, to Brazil, where they’ll be safe.

The court hears all sides and ponders a decision, while back at home family members continue to bicker, worried about money, the father’s will, the family business-a foundry the father still runs. Meanwhile the father goes around town presenting his plan to his illegitimate children, a son whose mother has died, a daughter whose mother runs a bar Nakajima funds and a married daughter who’s husband talks way too much about the effects of such bombs to a man who’s already obsessed and anxious about them. Say what you will about this man who certainly got around, but he provides and protects them all. He’s given jobs and a home to his legitimate sons and makes sure the others get money every month. In a touching scene outside the courtroom, when tempers were running high and the father was furious with his children, he returns to the corridor and gives his wife and children a bottle of orange soda pop. Providing for his family is so ingrained. Yet no one notices.

The case drags on, apparently more than most cases do in family court. All judges admit that the father has a point. The dentist, played by one of my favorite Japanese actors, points out that perhaps it’s crazy to go along with your life ignoring the bomb. Certainly, in Japan it should have been. In hindsight we know nuclear bombs haven’t been used since WWII, but in 1955 it wasn’t clear they wouldn’t be. The judges just can’t bring themselves to rule for Nakajima. Leaving a successful business and good middle class life, to go to Brazil was just too much. (Though there are lots of Japanese in Brazil and Peru. I wonder when they immigrated.)

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He’s looked into buying a farm in Brazil and the seller comes to Japan to show the family a film about it and answer their questions. Nakajima isn’t completely crazy. He takes rational steps. The court clearly considered this though they also sympathize with the adult children who just don’t want to be uprooted. Eventually, Nakajima’s youngest legitimate daughter and his wife agree to go, but an appeals court would still need to rule in favor of the father.

The film’s an absorbing look at Japanese culture and the impact of nuclear weapons. I know I’ve pretty much filed their existence in the back of my head, and though I don’t want Nakajima’s obsession, a reminder of their consequences isn’t bad.

You Will Be My Son

I watched this on my flight home. You Will Be My Son is a drama about an obnoxious, overbearing father, who owns a successful winery. He sees no value in his son, who can’t do anything right in his father’s eyes. When the wine estate manager is too sick to oversee the harvest, rather than have his son take on responsibility, the father turns to the manager’s son, who’s done well in the American wine world. This young man is a natural and has a far more engaging, strong personality, but it’s painful to watch the real son get insulted and slighted time and again.

The winery owner/father just gushes over the estate manager’s son, showering him with expensive gifts and taking him to Paris when he’s to receive an award.

I did learn a lot about modern wine making from this intense family drama. The ending was quite a surprise. Because the father was so offensive and clueless regarding his son, whose weaknesses must have been partly due to having a father so biased against him, I wouldn’t go out of my way to see You Will Be My Son. It’s a fine movie, but nothing great.