How are we idiots in our own ways? In Francis Veber’s 1998 film, this question seemed to be laid on the thrust. Coming from the rich tradition of French comedy, the film stands out for its reliance of sheer wittiness and comical characters in order to rise to the caliber of earlier classic French comic films. “The Dinner Game,” an eighty-minute wonder that could largely help in brushing off your day’s stress and think about your own sanity after showed us the meeting of Pierre and Pignon and the unruly, but totally sensical sequences that came after .
Mr. Pignon is our typical, on-surface idiot – too engrossed with his matchstick models, incessantly talking about it and seriously hoping that his viewers would appreciate his masterly work. Add to that the film’s attempt to bank in a stereotype – Mr. Pignon looks not the bit handsome, with thinning hair and a fat face and stout figure, seemingly making that reasonable match: idiocy and ugliness, or to be a bit kinder, unpresentability. Perhaps just when we were beginning to think of him as the normally self-centered idiot, the film did not bend and reserved the changing of attitude towards him much later.
But despite the superficial “idiocy,” Pignon is smart on his own way; moreover, he also has that less-cherished kindness. And given most of our upbringing which highly likely gives high merits on kindness of the heart, how easily can we dismiss Pignon as just as an annoying boor?
On the other side of the fence, there is Pierre, the typical good-looking guy you expect to see in movies and hear the most spellbinding lines from. But we see his character twisted a bit here. Beside Pignon, he is supreme, no doubt, but all depths neglected. Looking more closely, and watching the film further, we see more of Pierre and how he compares less than Pignon – his philandering that imperiled his marriage, his overt meanness and lack of heart. Remember that Pierre was supposed to bring Pignon in the Dinner Game where his “smart” friends take in some ”idiots” and make them talk the night out for their hidden pleasures. The very idea of this kind of dinner is already mean by itself.
Francis Veber’s Dinner Game then becomes a face that subtly reveals the unexpected slippages that can occur in human relations. The supposedly stable smart-idiot dichotomy whose interaction should be favorable for the former, mocking and making fun of the latter was disturbed by circumstances which eventually shook the relationship of the two. The golf fiasco at the beginning of the film foiled Pierre and Pignon’s attendance to the dinner and thereby also foiling the execution of Pierre’s “supremacy” over the “idiotic” Pignon. And that initial fiasco already reveals something – while Pignon has some mental weakness, Pierre is similarly prone to external factors that can expose his weaknesses too. And while his back aches, he had to rely on Pignon several times while they were together in his house – picking up the phone for him, sending him to his room among others.
Another case that betokens Pierre’s vulnerability is his relationship with his wife. His implied mild infidelity made her wife feel low, to the point of pondering about their marriage. This is a serious matter for Pierre, so when he appears to be already losing his wife, his dejection only became more resounding. Notably, while trying to win this case over his wife, trying to win her back, all that Pierre seemed to have left is idiotic Pignon. Pignon’s friend, Cheval, who knows the address of the person whom his wife Christine is most probably with, had been of great help in relieving Pierre and Pignon was very useful in contacting him. Despite Mr. Pignon’s “idiocy,” the fact that Pierre-the-smart-guy relied on him at a lengthy part of the film is already telling. This destabilizes, if not totally reverses the smart-idiot dichotomy and make the use of quotations to flank the designations more reasonable.
Ultimately, what can be seen in Dinner Game is the fluidity of social relations, how they are can be reversed or executed against the current, even only shortly, even only by little. In the same thread, categories such as “idiot” and “smart” are not stable and hence, the expectations and ideas that we create out of them are likewise always open to interrogation and negotiation.
Post-structuralist writing and thinking is avid of the use of these: “”. Either to coin a new term, or to use an old one but with an associated meaning far from the way it was traditionally conceived. The instability of meaning, the slippages caused by language, the Foucauldian dispersal of power – all these give rise to the potential for destruction and creation happening after the other, opening up wider spaces for inquiries and provocation. After knowing how our beliefs and predispositions have been preset for us with the infusions given to the words we use and encounter everyday, where do we stand? Ask more questions? Spacing away from perhaps dangerous stabilities? But: where is the danger coming from? In the present where differences are forced to be always for the sake of one and the expense of the other (rich businessman and his low-earning employees, rich landlord and his back-breaking, heat-bathing peasants, virile man and inferiorated woman), it is certainly not enough to just adjust the differences, to destabilize them. It is imperative that we adjust the present conditions in society where these differences originate, both in form and meaning, in existence and interpretation. Because I sometimes want to be as crazy as Pignon but more so longs for the chance to be like “it” without being jested.