“The Dinner”, a thriller about America’s festering divisions and “original sin” starring Richard Gere and Steve Coogan, tackled Trump-era tensions Friday at the Berlin film festival.
The movie by Israeli-American filmmaker Oren Moverman tells the story of two brothers and their wives whose children have committed a horrific racially charged crime.
Based on Dutch author Herman Koch’s international bestseller, the film “The Dinner” moves the action to the United States, where Gere plays an ambitious lawmaker with a young power-hungry wife (British-American actress Rebecca Hall).
Fellow Briton Coogan takes the part of his brother Paul, who in the book is a history teacher driven mad by the horrors of World War II.
In the movie, he is a man obsessed with the Battle of Gettysburg, the bloodiest battle of the US Civil War seen as the turning point for the Union victory over the Confederates.
Moverman, best known for writing the innovative Bob Dylan biopic “I’m Not There” and the Beach Boys story “Love and Mercy”, said both the setting and themes resonated more strongly now given the toxic political mood in the United States.
“We shot the movie last February, so it was before the unimaginable happened,” he said, referring to President Donald Trump’s election.
Moverman said Gettysburg embodied the “original sin” of slavery and national division — “everything that has happened to the United States since and is coming to the surface these days more and more”.
“But also I decided to put the brothers there at a place where brother turned against brother,” he added.
The film however is largely set at an absurdly expensive and pompous restaurant, where dishes such as “young winter roots on pumpernickel soil” are served without irony.
– ‘Really terrible things’ –
The brothers and their wives meet on this neutral ground to discuss what to do about their children’s crime, which is only slowly revealed as the drama is laid out in courses, beginning with an “obscenely” expensive pink champagne aperitif and ending with a comically precious cheese selection.
But Gere is constantly interrupted to check with his African-American assistant on progress winning votes for a bill he has sponsored to expand Obamacare to better cover psychiatric treatment that he sees as crucial to his run for state governor.
Back at the table, unresolved national history and hidden family secrets build to a terrifying climax involving Gere’s adopted black son Paul and his wife (Laura Linney).
At a press conference ahead of the film’s red-carpet premiere, the cast and crew were peppered with questions about Trump, with Coogan commenting acidly that although his character suffered from mental illness, “compared with the president of the United States I think it looks like a mild headache”.
Gere railed against Trump’s travel ban targeting refugees and seven Muslim-majority nations, currently thwarted by US courts, calling the equating of these people with “terrorists” his “biggest crime” since taking office last month.
“Unfortunately we have leaders that stimulate fear and that fear causes us to do really terrible things,” he said.
“I think that is part of what we are talking about in the film.”
“The Dinner” is one of 18 films vying for the festival’s Golden Bear top prize, to be awarded February 18.