Beatriz at DinnerSundance London 2017
A possible metaphor for the conflict between environmentalists and Donald Trump, Miguel Arteta’s Beatriz at Dinner presents the struggle of compassion and sustainability against the ravages of unrestrained capitalism.
A sensitive, psychically gifted healer who accidentally finds herself having dinner with ruthless billionaire businessman Doug Strutt (John Lithgow), Beatriz (Salma Hayek) cannot control her need to confront him about the destructive effects of his property developments. Among several affluent guests who are primarily intent on having a good time, such careless disregard for the human fallout resulting from their financial pursuits upsets Beatriz to the point of crisis: “Your fun is based on others’ pain”.
The contrast between Beatriz’s deep feeling, of one who has seen much tragedy, and the chuckling callousness of these nonchalant wealthy elites echoes global social divisions and highlights the amoral, dim-witted, bull-in-a-china-shop brutality of unregulated capitalism.
Opening with beautiful, serene shots of nature, a lake, and some dogs and goats, we are presented with a portrait of Beatriz’s life. Living in a California apartment with her animals – spiritual and religious effigies all around – she literally feels the misery and suffering of others. With the quality of a martyr, she channels the anguish of the afflicted, the sick, the dying and the destitute – and is at one with the earth, affected also by its pain: “Our earth is dying”.
Popular with wealthy Los Angeleans for her remarkable healing powers, when Beatriz’s car breaks down, she is invited to dinner by her client (Connie Britton), who is hosting a business party for some affluent movers and shakers. It just so happens that one of these is the developer who destroyed her village in Mexico, leaving the inhabitants homeless. To Beatriz this man represents the evils of the world – “All tears flow from the same source”. She directly confronts him and her hosts arrange to have her sent home, from which ensues potential violence and tragedy.
A central element of this piece is conversation, and it flows swiftly and artfully with both gravity and wit, while the camera rapidly and slyly captures facial expressions to indicate subtle reactions. The cinematography cleverly frames the characters while also creating gorgeous scenic views that echo Beatriz’s deep spirituality. Hayek is brilliant in this role and Lithgow, Britton and the entire cast form a superb ensemble. Beatriz at Dinner is a thoughtful, smart, moving, and timely work.
Beatriz at Dinner does not have a UK release date yet.
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