Double feature: Conversation as information exchange, opportunity to listen (or not,) arena in which to amuse (or bore) – these are familiar interactional paradigms. “Before Sunset” and “My Dinner with Andre” deepen the possibilities of any social exchange by providing two heady examples of conversation as seduction.
Although only one of these films involves a romantic relationship, both demonstrate the captivating, even bewitching, power of good conversation. Both films begin by reuniting two characters whose separation by time and circumstance has been encoded in a corresponding emotional distance, and watching them size each other up across various psychological barriers. Both films develop as their protagonists gradually recalibrate themselves to the original terms of their relationship, winning each other over to their particular worldviews by compellingly (and/or accurately) describing their time apart in sometimes calculated, sometimes spontaneous, words.
But is it the words per se that do the captivating? Through tight framing of space and compression of time, both films force their viewers to focus on them, but they are only one potential source of power in a list that also includes:
*the ideas/emotions/experiences being expressed through the words,
*the charm – and home court advantage – of the person expressing them,
*and the listener’s desire to be charmed away from his own reality, however temporarily.
For a marathon: “The Breakfast Club” is another, more histrionic film that weaves together its circumstantially different characters through conversational self-disclosure. After “My Dinner with Andre,” check out “The Trip” for another film that examines the effect of haute cuisine on the prandial conversation of middle-aged creative types.
(Creative Commons licensed original images courtesy of “nomorota” and “FotoosVanRobin” at Flickr)