Politics in Berlin: ‘The Dinner’ and ‘Karl Marx’

Politics is always a key theme here, and this year, with the election of President Donald Trump in the US and the Brexit vote in the UK, it’s on the filmmakers’ and actors’ minds more than ever.

February 14, 2017 20:49
3 minute read.
STEFAN KONARSKE (left) and August Diehl star in Raoul Peck’s ‘Young Karl Marx.’

STEFAN KONARSKE (left) and August Diehl star in Raoul Peck’s ‘Young Karl Marx.’ . (photo credit: KRIS DEWITTE)


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With more than 400 films in 10 days, no one can see everything at the Berlinale, the Berlin International Film Festival, which runs until February 19. Even those who manage to attend four screenings a day – I’ve done that occasionally, although it’s hard to remember much about the last film – can barely see even 10% of what is on offer.

Politics is always a key theme here, and this year, with the election of President Donald Trump in the US and the Brexit vote in the UK, it’s on the filmmakers’ and actors’ minds more than ever.

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Richard Gere plays an ethically challenged politician in Oren Moverman’s The Dinner, an adaptation of a bestselling novel by Herman Koch. This movie, which features an impressive cast – in addition to Gere, who is as stunning with silver hair as he was in his younger days, it stars Laura Linney, Steve Coogan and Rebecca Hall – turned out to be disappointing. It’s one of those movies where corrupt people hide secrets and resentments, and it all gets hashed out in loud, screaming fights and personal attacks. Gere’s character invites his mentally troubled brother (Coogan) and sister-in-law (Linney) to dinner with him and his much younger second wife (Hall), to talk over a pressing problem.

The issue is that their children have gotten into trouble together, and they need to decide what to do about it. The basic concept is similar to Roman Polanski’s Carnage, in which two couples meet after their children are involved in a fight.

The setup in The Dinner is interesting, and the parody of a very high-end restaurant in a mansion, where the waiter goes on and on, giving long, pretentious explanations about each dish – he even claims to know the names of the cows the cheese came from – is very funny. These four actors are all excellent, but the movie degenerates into a lot of unpleasant and not very involving talk.

Israeli-American director Moverman made a previous film with Gere, Time Out of Mind, the story of a homeless man. He also directed Rampart and The Messenger and has written several films, including Love & Mercy, I’m Not There and the Israeli movie Junction 48.

At the press conference following the film, talk turned to President Trump. Gere was asked who he would bring along if he were invited to dinner with Trump, and he said, “I wouldn’t be at that dinner.” Later, Gere said, “Fear causes people to do terrible things... Trump has conflated the words ‘refugee’ and ‘terrorist,’” and spoke of a rise in hate crimes since Trump was elected.

Another movie in which politics were front and center was Young Karl Marx, directed by Raoul Peck. Peck – whose Oscar-nominated documentary about author James Baldwin, I Am Not Your Negro – is coming up later in the week, has dramatized the lives of Marx and Friedrich Engels when they first met and started collaborating. August Diehl is outstanding in the lead role, and reminds you just how young Marx really was when he developed his theories.

The movie reads like the notes for a college course on 19th century political philosophy thrown onto the screen. Just about every famous Marx line you’ve ever heard is spoken by one character or another. For example, when Marx and Engels head home from a drunken binge, Marx says, “In the past, philosophers have just explained the world. The thing is to change it.” It ends with a Bob Dylan song and film clips of famous politicians and demonstrations over the end credits. Those interested in intellectual history will enjoy seeing their idols portrayed on film.

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