This movie is so fucking Russian.
Like Dostoyevsky levels of Russian. Like just short of a fallen noblewoman driving her shoeless children through the snow, singing the songs she recited at court. It feels like a play. You know, the ones called Winter, and you’re just waiting for everyone to get tuberculosis.
With the feel of a Russian classic set in the 21st century, the film is about two lovers, Emma and Gregory. Genuinely devoted to one another, they have lost everything in the old country and come to Israel to start a new life. But whereas in Russia they were Jews, in Israel they are Russians. And life as new immigrants is a hand-to-mouth affair. Gregory was an engineer, and now works two jobs, both of them security, trading on the stereotype of Russian toughness. In reality though, both of these jobs are emasculating, taking shit from members of the public, who barely see him, for next to no money.
Emma starts the film with a job handing out leaflets, which I’ve done and hey – I hear you – it’s soul-destroying. When her boss sexually harasses her, offering a promotion for a fuck, she tells him where to get off on the spot. But she repents at her leisure as she watches Gregory drown in their threadbare poverty.
He has lost his hope, and so lost his faith. He sets his sights on teaching their pet parrot to speak, which if you’ve read any Russian literature you know means that parrot’s days are numbered.
When the offer of work appears as a life drawing model, Emma feels she can’t refuse. Despite the fact she’s clearly not thrilled to be doing it, despite the fact she knows Gregory would flip his shit if he knew she was taking off her clothes for money, she feels she cannot let her pride get in the way of their finances again.
Enter Alon, and the second couple in this film. Alon is a wealthy, middle-class businessman, who dabbles in art to maintain his cultured persona. Whenever he neglects his wife (or it’s heavily implied gets some stray) he shows up with something expensive as an apology.
Alon has everything Gregory does not have, and nothing that he does. Alon’s marriage is one where either partner barely registers each other. His wife is schtupping his best friend, an aging, vaping emo. Meanwhile Gregory clings to his wife as his only reason for living, the only thing that makes him feel good or alive, the only person who sees him with dignity.
Alon tries to pursue Emma, overtly as a private model for his paintings, but with a constant undercurrent that, of course, this will lead to fucking. Emma initially poses for the money, but bails when she feels like there’s more hanging in the air, and the pressure of keeping what she’s doing from Gregory becomes too much.
Finally things look up when Gregory lands a well-paying job at a tech company, and even looks set to get a promotion. The boss invites him to his house for dinner, and, you guessed it, his new boss is Alon. Coincidence is a bitch, no?
You know if a film is called The Dinner, then everything you’re watching is just dominoes being lined up for the absolute shitshow that will go down at this dinner. And needless to say, this follows the garment-rending traditions of the classics.
Thoroughly satisfying slice of Russian misery. Raw with emotion, a bitter portrait of class.