When Beatriz finds herself with a broken car stranded at a wealthy Los Angeles client’s home, she is offered to stay for a dinner party which turns, at best, unfortunately awkward, and at worst into a nightmarish exercise in when to speak up versus hold your tongue.
Beatriz at Dinner paints a biting picture, especially in the current political climate of Trump’s presidency, of the discrepancies of political and humanitarian values, lived experience and thought between the way that people of different socioeconomic classes confront the world around them. While this is certainly a far reaching and heavy concept, its presentation through the format of a dinner party brings these large issues into a context that most audiences are all too familiar with. No talking politics at the dinner table – but these days most everything is political. So, what happens when a liberal-leaning woman of color finds herself in the middle of a dinner party for her well-off white employer? Beatriz at Dinner takes great pains to align the audience with Beatriz, her lived experience, and motives. However, director Miguel Arteta does not make it so that (at least some of) the other party guests are wholly unsympathetic or inhuman. Arteta pinpoints the crux of uncomfortable interaction when confronted with someone whose opinions and values you simply cannot agree with, but in a situation in which it becomes incredibly difficult to speak out. Beatriz struggles to be polite, but as the night progresses, inches further and further towards the point at which she cannot keep silent anymore.
I had the great pleasure of attending a preview screening for Beatriz at Dinner at my and Arteta’s alma mater, Wesleyan University, before its theatrical release, with Arteta in attendance. Arteta discussed many aspects of the film’s casting, production, and financing process during the Q&A following the film. At length, he discussed the all-too-important casting of Salma Hayek. Many of Hayek’s personal causes, especially activism which includes increasing awareness on violence against women and discrimination against immigrants, were pivotal to Hayek’s characterization of Beatriz. Furthermore, Hayek’s commitment to defending animal rights brought Beatriz’s situation in the film all too close to Hayek’s personal causes.
One of the most interesting parts of this screening was no doubt that the audience was 90% liberal college students– or, in other words, those most likely to fully understand Beatriz and how Arteta was aligning the audience with Beatriz’s experience. The audience’s reactions to the film were overwhelmingly positive, with students fully seeing parts of their own experience in confronting class and political conflict pin pointedly reflected through Beatriz’s experience at dinner. Looking forward, it will be intriguing to see how this film plays with an audience not almost totally comprised of liberal university students. However, the masterful way in which Arteta brings the audience intimately close to Beatriz throughout the film will no doubt have filmgoers feel for her, and see the world through Beatriz’s eyes as she confronts a micro-version of the toxic socio-political environment of this day and age.
Beatriz at Dinner
dir. Miguel Arteta
Opens Friday, 6/16 @ Coolidge Corner Theatre and Kendall Square Cinema