Youth, Violence & Social Media: Director Ivano De Matteo on his Internationally Acclaimed Film 'The Dinner'


On a gorgeous Sunday morning in Central Park, I meet with Ivano De Matteo to discuss his latest, critically acclaimed film The Dinner (its Italian title is I nostri ragazzi). Clad in black jeans, a navy blue tee shirt and pageboy cap, the Roman director-writer-actor and I speak in a mélange of Spanish and Italian, sprinkled with French articles here and there. The medley of Romance languages in a melting pot city flow astonishingly well.

Having seen The Dinner before it was shown at the 2015 Film Society of Lincoln Center's Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series, I'm excited to chat with its director. My favorite movie in an impressive lineup, it is a stroke of good luck to meet De Matteo, who is in town for the festivities. It's not the first time his work has been featured in the popular annual series. 
De Matteo was in New York when his first directorial effort Ultimo Stadio, in which he also acted, was selected in 2003. Sitting on a sun-swathed bench across the Pond near Fifth Avenue, we talk about the movie. 

Loosely inspired by Herman Koch's bestselling novel, The Dinner tells the unfortunate tale of two brothers (played by Italian movie stars Alessandro Gassmann and The Best of Youth's Luigi Lo Cascio) who meet weekly for dinner despite a strained relationship. (Read my full review here.)
 In short, their children commit a senseless act of violence that leads to a devastating aftermath. It's a film in which stereotypes are subverted, good and bad are inverted and every single detail, from the lighting to each character's body language to the setting and locations, were purposefully etched and sketched to emphasize the plot's recurring motifs.

One of the themes of The Dinner is social media's impact on modern society and its youth, reflected by the apathy the brothers' offsprings (played by Jacopo Olmo Antinori and Game of Thrones' Rosabell Laurenti Sellers) display. In a coddling society, De Matteo was interested in examining what a parent would do if faced with the 
consequences of the most extreme kind of emotional detachment. 

The director on the red carpet flanked by the cast of The Dinner

While the action in the book takes place mostly during the course of a meal, De Matteo feels "it made more sense cinematically" not to limit the setting, incorporating scenes that take place all over Rome. Literature and cinema are two distinct mediums, and he uses his unique vision and direction to visually flush out the characters and their stories, creating conflict and tension in ways that would have been impossible to accomplish by adhering strictly to the novel. 

One of the most disturbing scenes, a road rage incident gone wrong, comes at the very beginning of the movie. It was inspired by a real life event in which the then 19-year-old De Matteo engaged in an intense shouting match with a guy who may or may not have been a policeman. The testosterone-filled episode fizzled off, but not before the latter exposed a gun. Since that incident long ago, the father of two young children (one of whom acts in the film) made a name for himself in the theater. It was during his time on the stage that De Matteo, who made his onscreen debut in 1992's Close Friends (Le amiche del cuore, starring Asia Argento), began crafting his art as a director.

Walking along the Pond, De Matteo says he is "curious about how audiences will respond to the film in the U.S.," having already experienced its enthusiastic reception in France and South Korea. It's a universal film about the modern world and its psychological implications. He understands that, depending on the country or region, reactions will vary and certain details will resonate differently across cultures. There's no doubt, however, The Dinner will appeal to American audiences. It is luscious and gritty, thought-provoking and disturbing, but ultimately entertaining. 

A few months after meeting in Central Park, De Matteo will set off to shoot a brand new tale about another dysfunctional family, this time set in the Italian city of Turin. Before then, he will receive the news that his 2009 film La bella gente will finally receive its long-awaited theatrical release across Italy at the end of August. But on this particular day in early June, amid the sounds of jazz playing and people buzzing about, we bid adieu and part ways under the late spring sun. 


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