The Dinner (I nostri ragazzi)


The Latin phrase in vino veritas means “in wine there is truth,” but there is also truth found in tragedy. Ivano De Matteo's gripping drama The Dinner ( I nostri ragazzi), loosely inspired by the eponymous bestseller by Herman Koch, explores how tragedy brings forth the hidden character of family members in a modern-day, Italian Cain and Abel allegory.

Massimo and his younger brother Paolo (played by Alessandro Gassman and Luigi Lo Cascio, respectively) have a long-held history of rivalry and resentment. Nevertheless, Paolo and his wife Clara (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) meet Massimo and his wife Sofia (Barbora Bobulova) once a week for dinner at a fancy restaurant in the city. Clara doesn’t care much for the chatty and bubbly Sofia, but the pair continue to see each other, if only as a courtesy to their teenage children, who go to the same school and share a close relationship.

Warm-hearted Paolo is a pediatric surgeon whose latest patient is a boy shot during a road rage incident. Coincidently, his brother is the hotshot attorney representing the defendant, driving a bigger wedge between them. The impenetrable Massimo, cool and collected, stands by the law. At first, the film takes the viewpoint of Paolo and Clara and their affluent, yet cozy home life, which lies in stark contrast to the other couple’s minimalist, office-like penthouse. It’s Massimo’s daughter Benedetta (Rosabell Laurenti Sellers) who introduces Paolo and his family, seemingly dismissing her own in favor of having dinner at her uncle’s house. There, she and cousin Michele (Jacopo Olmo Antinori) entertain themselves watching cartoonishly violent videos online.

After the video of a brutal beating that leaves a homeless woman in a coma makes headlines, Clara is disturbed by the thought that the assailants might be her troubled son and niece. This is where the story begins to unravel and the true stories of these two families, subverting stereotypes about good and evil, right and wrong, morality and justice. The clues that this sibling rivalry may largely be one-sided out of jealousy become apparent when each family must face moral obligations concerning their offspring.

Shot against the elegant and gritty backdrop of Rome, De Matteo’s film is a nuanced psychological film that examines how differently people, as individuals and as a couple, deal with trauma. Lacking judgement, the film plays with preconceived notions and stereotypes of good and evil. There is a lot of foreshadowing and smattering of small details here and there (for example, Paolo and Clara joke about Paolo’s height several times, revealing insecurity about Massimo’s-- and Sofia’s-- good looks) that show us these two men are multi-dimensional, and when things become dire, who they really are as men.


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