As France’s entry for the ‘Best International Feature Film’ award at the Oscars, The Taste of Things (formerly titled The Pot-au-Feu) has a lot of eyes, and watering mouths, on it. The film is a gorgeous sensual romance that takes a while for things to simmer, but it soon warms the heart.
In a luxurious French kitchen set in 1885 resides Eugénie (Juliette Binoche) and Dodin (Benoît Magimel), two gourmet cooks who have been working together for the last 20 years. The film follows their dynamic development, focusing less on them talking to each other but how they communicate by what’s lovingly put on the plate.
The beginning of the film, much like most of the runtime, comprises of lengthy methodical cooking scenes. The blocking of these sections, how the characters and props move within it and how the camera compliments that, all puts the viewer there in that kitchen. So much so that when a character lifts a pan lid off boiling vegetables it’s surprising when it doesn’t steam up your glasses in the theatre. You can smell and taste all of the exquisite dishes.
Currently deep in post-production on one of my own films, and thinking of how we can tell that story as economically as possible, cutting certain lines of dialogue and trimming it down to be the leanest it can be, I was paying particular attention to that here. The film is absolutely about excess, it never critiques the over consumption other than a few comedic moments, it is just so in love with these characters and how they live that the indulgence translates to the filmmaking.
Love and passion
Nothing follows the modern filmmaking trend of efficiency, with dwindling attention spans, it’s always about getting to the next bit as fast as possible, here that couldn’t be further from the aim and I love that. This is far from economic with its storytelling. A different film would cut from a boiling pan to a beautiful dish on a plate, but The Taste of Things shows the love and passion imbued into each dish. It’s their way of sending love letters.
The first scene in particular is paramount to getting the audience into the rhythm of the film. It untrains you from the fast-talking, plot heavy stories and focuses on keeping you present in the moment which pays off for the rest of the film. Anh Hung Tran directs the story and two fantastic lead performances at his own pace, slowing everything down to appreciate every detail. At 2hrs25m it’s not a short film by an stretch, but I barely felt the runtime.
The Taste of Things marks a nice change for cooking stories, so many contemporary narratives set in a kitchen focus on the stress, the screaming at people to get things done, the tortured chef who has their own stressful way of making things by taking that anger out on others, but makes a breathtaking dish by the end of it. Luckily, this film couldn’t be further from that. It almost exclusively focuses on the precise love that goes into it, perfectly translating that feeling of joy you get from spending all day preparing a meal for your loved ones to enjoy.
Soak up every flavour
In our culture, food is often seen as nothing more than a convenience, something to fill one’s stomach so they can get on with their day, so I invite you to find a screening of The Taste of Things and soak up every flavour. It may not be to everyone’s taste, but you’ll leave hungry and ready to prepare an excellent meal. This celebration of food is a touching drama that is a delightful holiday to 19th century France.