05 Feb 24
Juliette Binoche, Benoît Magimel
The pleasure of food is universal, and The Taste of Things celebrates one of the most refined and extravagant national cuisines – that of France – through the story of a 19th century gourmet and his cook.
This sumptuous film won Vietnamese-born French filmmaker Trán Anh Hùng the Best Director award at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival and is representing France at the Oscars, where it will be competing in the Best International Feature Film category. The Academy should eat before viewing.
At a time when many of the most famous French dishes were being imagined for the first time, Dodin (played as a man full of gentleness by the celebrated Benoît Magimel) regularly entertains guests, many of them gourmets themselves, with the recipes he invents and refines. The men talk about all sorts of things, but more often than not, their musings are interrupted by the food on their plates. Savouring the dishes, they sit in silence, smiling at one another and careful not to utter a word that could tarnish this moment.
While The Taste Of Things does offer a glimpse at the history of French cuisine – discovering the elaborate dishes of the era is one of the many delights on offer – and the men who contributed to it, its true focus is on what happens in the kitchen, where the gourmet's ideas were brought to life by female cooks.
Eugénie (the luminous Juliette Binoche) has worked for Dodin for the last 20 years, and as the cook preparing the dishes, she is in the shadows, but only figuratively so. Hùng shows the kitchen as a sun-drenched paradise, where Eugénie and her young female assistants get to create magic.
Moving from station to station and preparing several dishes at once, Eugénie does not operate on stress or adrenaline – quite the contrary. Her years of experience, her talent and her passion have made her nothing less than a consummate artist, and when she works, a smile is always dancing on her lips. The audience not only gets to marvel at the delicious food being prepared, we also enjoy watching someone doing their best work.
The Taste Of Things is a feast for all the senses: images and sounds come as close as possible to giving us a sense of the tastes, smells and textures of the meals being prepared and eaten. But the film also looks beyond sensations and into the life of the mind, with the kind of grace most of us can only wish to possess.
As Dodin and his colleagues struggle to describe the flavours and smells that delight them, the gourmet and Eugénie similarly find that the ties that bind them cannot easily be put into words. Would her creations be as delightful if they weren't prepared out of love? Would Dodin still have this much passion for cooking if she weren't there?
The chemistry between Magimel and Binoche is that of two people who know each other very well, but their familiarity is imbued with tenderness and care, even as it dips into passion.
While The Taste Of Things is a period film, only the dress, the traditional meals and the slower rhythm of the lives depicted date it. The joy of eating and the intense, loving relationship between its two charming protagonists transcend time, as well as borders. Elena Lazic
The Eight Mountains2022
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