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by Xaver Schwarzenberger

grade: 6.5

Dinner for two – made for television by Xaver Schwarzenberger, the long-time cinematographer of the great Rainer Werner Fassbinder – aims above all to be a fresco of Viennese society – and, more generally, of the world in which we live – without taking itself too seriously. A long journey through Vienna where anything can happen.

Dinner at home

Nowadays, it is common to organise dinners in one’s own home by ordering food, calling someone who can cook for us or even going to other people’s places who have created a sort of home restaurant. Yet back in 2003, director Xaver Schwarzenberger – Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s long-time cinematographer – had already thought of such a situation in his Dinner for Two, made for television. The German director, then, already in 1983 – the year he first tried his hand at directing with The Pacific Ocean – began making feature films in Austria intended for distribution exclusively on television.

This, then, is also the case in Dinner for Two, in which we follow the story of two friends, Steffi (played by Marianne Mendt) and Sophie (Gisela Schneeberger). The former, after having cooked delicacies for her husband (the very talented Erwin Steinhauer) for twenty years, is obliged to prepare healthy dishes for him, since the man’s health is at risk. The second, on the other hand, has suddenly been left by her husband and finds herself alone and in dire financial straits. What better occasion, then, to start the Dinner for Two company, by cooking at people’s homes and organising romantic dinners for two?

This feature film by Xaver Schwarzenberger immediately presents itself as an unpretentious work. Its intention is, quite simply, to entertain and amuse the audience for about an hour and a half, without the audience itself asking too many questions about it. Yet, despite everything, the director still knows his stuff. And within this entertaining little work of his, he has successfully created a fresco of contemporary society, characterising to the best of his ability every single figure encountered by the two protagonists during the dinners they organise. Thus begins a series of bizarre portraits, from that of a snooty noblewoman who exploits both cooks excessively, to that of a man disappointed because his partner did not show up at the dinner, to a tender elderly couple in love like the first day, who decide to organise a romantic dinner for old times’ sake.

We agree: Dinner for Two is not a perfect film. At times, in fact, it even seems too predictable, with excessively abrupt script twists. But one must also consider that this work is intended exclusively for television and, therefore, there are certain canons to be respected. Xaver Schwarzenberger, for his part, managed to handle it decently, showing (or, it would be better to say) confirming his good directing skills (let’s not forget that we are talking about someone who worked closely with Fassbinder for years). And this Dinner for Two is, all in all, a good, unpretentious film, which from time to time also makes people laugh (see, for example, the scene in which Steffi’s husband has to organise a business dinner with some Japanese colleagues, but is forced to eat a simple tofu with vegetables dish).

Many paradoxical moments, then, for just as many scenes that move and make us think. Because, in fact, this Dinner for Two is intended above all to be a fresco of Viennese society – and, more generally, of the world in which we live – without taking itself too seriously. A long journey through Vienna where anything can happen. Even meeting an elegant Karl Markovics dressed as a woman and ready to give good advice on anti-wrinkle creams and beauty treatments. But Karl Markovics, you know, can really do anything. And he never disappoints.

Original title: Dinner for two
Directed by: Xaver Schwarzenberger
Country/year: Austria / 2003
Running time: 89’
Genre: comedy
Cast: Marianne Mendt, Gisela Schneeberger, Erwin Steinhauer, Karl Markovics, Nora Heschl, Jeannette Hain, Nina Blum, Houchang Allahyari, Toni Böhm, Wolfgang Gasser, Alfons Haider, Dagmar Koller, Gerald Szyszkowitz, Julia Gschnitzer, Maria Urban, Suza Juhasz, Hary Prinz, Hans-Christian Haas, Gen Seto
Screenplay: Ulrike Schwarzenberger
Cinematography: Xaver Schwarzenberger
Produced by: Thalia-Film, ORF

Info: the page of Dinner for two on iMDb