Dinner

By Linh Tran | Drama
A young boy discovers a surprising truth that shakes his faith in his parents' marriage.

Quan is a young 11-year-old boy living at home with his mother and father. He gets in fights regularly, has a surly, silent attitude and is hostile with his parents, who disagree on how to handle his problems. His father says boys will be boys, but his mother wants to take a heavier hand with her son's discipline.

But one day coming home from school, he spots his father on the street -- with another woman who isn't his mother. His parents try to pretend that nothing is happening, but Quan can't quite let it go and continues to act out. When the truth comes out in the open for all the family members, it changes the dynamic of the home and the family in quiet yet devastating ways.

Directed by Linh Tran from a script co-written with Monzerrat Lozano, this graceful, subtle short drama tells the story of a troubled marriage and family from the perspective of the child, who can sense and see more than the adults around him think. Perceptive, elegantly pared-down craftsmanship and artistry capture the silent yet insidious ripple effects of infidelity on a whole family, showing how secrets and lies can seep into the farthest corners of a home.

The storytelling takes a poetic, observational approach, where spare but precise writing and performances capture the tension between everyday life and the roiling secrets underneath. Quan's family lives an ordinary existence, from their humble apartment home to the crowded busy streets of their city, captured in gentle yet gritty naturalistic visuals that have a keen eye for telling detail. Noise constantly streams in the background, evoking the presence of an outside world.

This outside life contrasts with Quan's home, with its darker, dusty colors and cramped interiors. Within this bubble, the family comes together, but not in a spirit of harmony and togetherness. Instead, Quan's misbehavior sparks a ripple effect of conflict between the parents. Young actor Hoang Duc Anh plays Quan with little dialogue, but he gives shape to Quan's inner turmoil with small, restless aggressions against the world around him. There's no malice, but a sense of distant confusion that is periodically disturbed by a wave of deep anger. As adult problems unfold around him and his parents try to hide the issue from him, he nevertheless knows more than his parents realize, upending the dynamics of the home, even as the status quo seemingly remains the same.

With a lean but precise economy of detail, "Dinner" captures a fundamental truth of children, in how they always know more than people think they initially do. They may not grasp specifics or fully grapple with the implications of adult behavior and decisions. But they can always sense when something isn't right. The father's infidelity doesn't just damage the mother's trust and cause her pain and anger -- it also affects Quan, as much as his parents want to hide the situation from him. The family is fracturing, in ways no one has yet to address openly. They are having dinner in the film's final haunting image, but a sense of foreboding has crept in -- despite the unruffled appearance of an ordinary family sharing a meal, together yet so far apart.




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