A mentally unstable history teacher, a Congressman and their respective wives get together for dinner at a silly restaurant where food is literally served on silver platters. The night wears on through courses of food that are labeled as such in order to tell the story. By the time we get to the "apertif," we have had enough of the mental banter, the screaming and the movie itself. Told through a series of flashbacks, both subject matter and style of delivery remain self-indulgent, repetitious, and painful to the eye (and ear.) The film is based upon the best selling novel by Herman Koch and according to all accounts "was an international best-selling phenomenon." But surely the reasons that made the book such a phenomenon do nothing to give the same weight to the film.
The plot is propelled forward by a "crime" that has been committed by the boys of the two brothers - Paul and Serge. As the story unfolds and the never ending meal meanders on through tears, screaming, interruptions and yes "food," we become the uncomfortable voyeurs to a series of disturbing family dynamics. Jealousy, mental illness, physical disease, ambition, and power are all laid out upon the backdrop of social privilege and money. Is money the real culprit here or is the history of mental instability that cannot keep up the pretense of linen napkins and table manners.
The potential claustrophobia of the film is saved by flashbacks from the outside world. These flashbacks are like open windows that allow us to stay seated, offering respite from the predominant darkness being emitted throughout the dinner. What lurks beyond the absurdity of civilized conventions turns out to be the delicate nature of the mind and it's possible detours into insanity. I left the theater feeling as if I had been hit over the head, an unwelcome witness to drama and dysfunction I would rather have avoided. And while the open window offered small respite to the tantrums on screen, it was not enough to salvage both form and content of the film.