It’s been 32 years since Louis Malle’s “My Dinner with André” became a cause célèbre among critics and art-house regulars. It’s still a unique experience, eavesdropping on experimental-theater director and actor André Gregory and his close friend, actor and playwright Wallace Shawn, as they engage in a marathon dinner conversation ranging from nagging pet peeves to the life-changing impact of existential adventures.
Now we have a kind-of sequel that the late Malle would’ve relished. “André Gregory: Before and After Dinner,” is an insightful documentary/love letter directed by Gregory’s second wife, Cindy Kleine, who married Gregory when she was 39 and he was 63.
Their mutual devotion informs the film without compromising Kleine’s portrait of Gregory (now 79 and a lymphoma survivor) as a captivating raconteur and still-daring director, finally ready to stage his production of Ibsen’s “The Master Builder” after 14 years — yes, years — of informal rehearsal. (The production was filmed by Jonathan Demme for an upcoming release.)
Balancing personal and objective observations with humorously engaging narration, Kleine deftly combines familial histories (they share Jewish lineage) and other biographical details while focusing on the present.
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That Gregory’s distant, emotionless father might have been a spy for Hitler weighs heavily on Gregory’s psyche, and he describes Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” as “a documentary about my childhood.”
Gregory may embellish his memories, but it’s only because he enjoys a good yarn.
Kleine sees no appreciable difference between objective truth and her husband’s occasional embellishments, and she has a point: By any measure, Gregory’s passionately artistic life has been extraordinarily well-lived, undeniably eventful and entirely worthy of this affectionately upbeat documentary.