By Roger Costa
THE TASTE OF THINGS
Since the begining of times, food has been the only element that really unites all cultures, the necessary element for which everyone is pleased for, bringing satisfaction, pleasure, discoveries and encounters. Everything in life begins and ends with a meal. For most people, eating time is the best time of the day, and its effects are impressive: through flavors, scents and colors, we are able to travel through time and places, bringing back memories, exploring the unknown, or creating your own personal fantasy.
In the opening scene of this delightful gastronomy feast, fueled by an impossible and unique romance between cook Eugenie and her gourmet boss Dodin, the action is taking place in the kitchen where they’re preparing a special meal for guests. The suggestion implied by him that he throws in the recipes and she makes magic with them, is never an exaggeration, but rather true.
As the camera moves around the pans, capturing the simmering, the heat, the boiling pots, the sauces, and the consistency taking shape, through the devoted hands of Eugenie, the commands of Dodin, and the curiosity and helpful attitute of their apprentice, Pauline, the film seductively grabs the viewer by the heart (and the stomach) inviting for an exquisite journey of unrequited love and common passion for the artistry of cooking.
It is impossible not to fall in love immediately for these characters as they engage themselves in the art of creating perfect dishes we can actually savor them. There’s a profound sensibility in the way the camera approaches them, and presents their art and results, that makes it one of the most accomplished portraits of such art and devotion. This sort of visually appealing strategy is nothing new to Vietnamese-French director Anh Hung Tran, who 30 years ago scored an Oscar nomination for his beautiful drama “The Scent of the Green Papaya”. A master in the depiction of how food shapes relationships and builds hope, desire and pleasure, Tran won the coveted Best Director Award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and has another shot at the Oscars as France has submitted this as its official selection for next year’s race for the Best International Film’s Golden statue.
The work he has achieved here is marvelous, and rapidly puts him back under the radar as one of the year’s most celebrated filmmakers. His vision is elegant, immersive, deeply engaged and profoundly delicate. And there’s also a subtle tone of sophisticated comedy, enhancing its crowd-pleasing attributes.
Visually irresistible, the dishes are the main attraction of course, but the actors are those responsible to give life to them, as well as transporting us into their admirable world of tasting and sampling. As the romantic partners, Juliette Binoche and Benoît Magimel are on top of their games, precisely showing why they are among the most versatile players in the industry. Their work in the kitchen, their resting and tea time, their insightful conversations on producing and finding a way to manifest the love for each other, are richly textured examples of their chemistry and power scene. But if there’s someone who really deserves all attention this time is the 12-year-old actress Bonnie Chagneau-Ravoire. As their apprentice, she is the one who gives us, literally, the taste of things. Her naturalism and technique are impressive for a newcomer, a young actress who knows how to leave a mark, a convincingly affecting blend of innocence and willingness to learn, to grow, to explore, that easily captivates the heart. Though the pair is the center of this romantic journey, it is through the girl’s eyes, her expressions and her descriptions on the flavors she’s just devoured, that we can immerse ourselves in the kitchen, becoming another important piece there. She certainly deserves Awards attention, especially when you notice she can speak volumes just with a simple glance.
Subtly funny, magical, irresistible, sensitive and festive, this is a wonderful exploration on love, sacrifice and gastronomic passion.
(IFC Films. 12/13 thru 12/19 for Academy consideration at IFC Center, NYC)