Sunday, March 13, 2016

#762: A Master Builder

(Jonathan Demme, 2014)

I have no business writing anything on this movie, so instead I'll talk about the boxset that was released at the same time, which lacks a spine number. Andre Gregory & Wallace Shawn: 3 Films includes three very different movies from three separate decades that come from a collaboration between two very talented actors focused primarily on the theater and ways in which its structure can inform life. Two of the films included in the collection were directed by Louis Malle, while Jonathan Demme directed this third installment, released to festivals in 2013, making it one of the more recent films in the Collection.

Of the three films, there is no question that My Dinner with Andre is the one that I like best. I'll quite easily admit that part of this is my general disinterest in theater, though there are some theater-focused films in the Collection that I like very much. Both Vanya and A Master Builder are older plays that have been tweaked or updated for their respective film adaptations, but Vanya takes a significantly more radical approach that at least let the film stand out from the average filmed play that many traditional stage-to-screen adaptations are.

My Dinner with Andre similarly flouts conventional filmmaking, but it does so in way that to me is highly cinematic - though I haven't seen it in years, it's one of my favorite Malle films. The conversation the two actors have is extremely engaging, and the way Malle shoots it underscores the simple drama of an enlightening human-scale interaction. It's a film like Waking Life or the documentary The Power of Myth that gets creative gears turning and makes you think about the potential of art and human creation. It's also just a fun experience, like sitting alone eavesdropping on people who are far more interesting than whoever didn't show up to have dinner with you.

This isn't a box for me - I don't like theater as I've made clear on this blog before - but for people who do like this sort of thing, A Master Builder is deserving of its place next to the other two films, even if it's clearly the weakest of the bunch. Shawn in particular is such an engaging and unpredictable actor that even I was occasionally entranced by his performance. With one straight classic, one extremely strong swan song from one of the most important directors in the Collection, and a final film from another major director to round out the journey, this is an admirable set, and one that could mean a lot to a certain kind of fan of acting and the process.

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