Andre Gregory: Before and After Dinner: Film Review

Andre Gregory: Before and After Dinner Still - H 2013
Cinema Guild

Andre Gregory: Before and After Dinner Still - H 2013

Although Andre Gregory's fans will find much here to savor, this rambling and unfocused portrait smacks of self-indulgence.

Cindy Kleine's documentary concerns the life and career of the famed theater director.

Although Andre Gregory has long established himself as a character actor in such films as The Last Temptation of Christ and The Mosquito Coast, the role he’s best suited to play is himself. More than three decades after doing so in Louis Malle’s landmark film My Dinner With Andre, he once again does it superbly in Andre Gregory: Before and After Dinner, his wife Cindy Kleine’s new documentary celebrating his life and career as a landmark theater director. Unfortunately, this rambling portrait receiving its U.S. theatrical premiere at NYC’s Film Forum is not nearly as tasty a cinematic meal.

At age 78, Gregory remains a fascinating raconteur, delivering witty and thoughtful insights about life and art that are here tinged with a poignant awareness of his mortality. Some of the more intimate recollections he delivers are presented during walks through a cemetery where his parents and other relatives are buried.

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A dominant theme is his troubled relationship with his Eastern European parents, who he describes at one point as “like the insane rulers of a little Balkan country.” He’s particularly haunted by his suspicion that his emotionally distant father may have been an economic collaborator with the Nazis.

“My theater work is on ongoing meditation on the most frightening person in my life — my father,” he says at one point.

That theater work, such as his legendary production of Alice in Wonderland, is naturally a main focal point, with extensive footage of his seemingly endless rehearsals for a production of Ibsen’s The Master Builder starring his longtime friend and collaborator, Wally Shawn. As with Malle’s two-hander, Shawn is a dominant presence here, providing droll commentary throughout and at one point fulminating when the camera catches him during a private conversation.

Gregory’s rather erratic film career is also highlighted via clips from not only My Dinner With Andre but also such less than distinguished efforts as Protocol and Demolition Man. One of the more priceless moments comes in the form of an anecdote about an on-set blow-up between him and the latter film’s director, with Gregory having the triumphant last word.

But while Gregory’s fans will find much here to appreciate, more casual viewers may be less interested in such mundane moments as when he cuts his finger and emerges from the bathroom sporting a Spider-Man bandage. Kleine too often makes herself the subject, spending an inordinate amount of the film’s running time expounding on her life prior to meeting her husband. While her relationship with her subject infuses this cinematic portrait with an uncommon intimacy, it also prevents it from having a necessary objectivity.

Opens April 3 (Cinema Guild)

Director: Cindy Kleine

Producers: Cindy Kleine, Jonathan Oppenheim, Susan Lazarus

Director of photography: Tom Hurwitz

Editor: Jonathan Oppenheim

Composer: Bruce Odland

Not rated, 101 min.