The Dinner (Het Diner)

How do you make a family drama into a psychological thriller and make it work? Well, Dutch director Menno Meyjes has done it. This is a unique revealing film about an upper middle class European family whose outer fa├žade hides an ugly truth. 

The film follows a father, Paul (Jacob Derwig), an unemployed cynical ex-teacher, who has lost touch with his son’s life, and the family fallout after he learns of his son’s involvement with a Clockwork Orange style crime that seems to eco Anthony Burgess's account of the future.

Filmed as an intense thriller, the story surrounds a dinner conversation at a posh restaurant between two sets of parents, who have come together to discuss a crime committed by their children. Paul’s brother Serge (Daan Schuurmans), a politician, has arranged for them and their wives to meet at a restaurant to discuss the grave consequences of the situation and what action should be taken.

Based on a provocative bestselling Dutch novel of the same name by Herman Koch, and inspired by real events, it’s an unflinching account of how parents are both enablers and protectors of their children’s bad behaviors. 

The parents all have a different take on what should be done and everyone is taking steps to protect their interests. It’s almost like a political thriller the way the film cuts between the diner conversation and the crime itself as seen through surveillance footage.

The brothers want to take steps to make sure that their boys are punished according to the law and suggest disclosing what they know to the police, but the mothers are much more protective of their young sons and will do anything to cover up their crimes. 

It’s smartly written with sometimes scathingly hilarious dialogue and analogies about decaying morals in modern society. The film tries to deal with the negative influences of modern technology and violence in music and media that children are exposed to, and how it’s becoming increasingly difficult for parents to control or influence their children with positive messages.

In no way is the movie preachy. We are kept fully engaged with many thriller genre conventions, including a voice over narration by the main character Paul, giving us his thoughts as we get to see contemporary Dutch life. The film is beautifully photographed and full of close-up facial expressions as the characters plot their next move, secret meetings in public washrooms and underground parking lots, cell phone snooping and cyber surveillance footage.

As more details about the crime are slowly revealed, we watch as Paul’s world starts to slip away from him. All is not what it seems at first and soon we realize that the parent’s roles are much more complicated. 

It’s a provocative moral tale of family dynamics disguised as a thriller that asks difficult questions, but leaves you with few answers and lots to think about.

The Dinner (2013) is playing at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and will hopefully soon be given a wider release in North America. Be sure to catch this disturbing but memorable film when it does.

JP

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