Director: Anh Hung Tran
Writers: Marcel Rouff and Anh Hung Tran
Stars: Juliette Binoche, Benoit Magimel, Emmanuel Salinger
Synopsis: The story of Eugenie, an esteemed cook, and Dodin, the fine gourmet with whom she has been working for over the last 20 years.
Food on film is basically its own genre at this point. Throughout numerous cultures and film styles, food is a standard. Tampopo, Eat Drink Man Woman, Big Night, and Like Water For Chocolate are just a few fabulous examples of the power of food on celluloid. It is not enough to simply film well composed dishes in order to make greatness. This is not your instagram feed, it must contain actual substance. There are few food films of greater substance than this year’s The Taste of Things.
The Taste of Things follows the relationship between a chef, Dodin Bouffant (Benoit Magimel), and his cook, Eugenie (Juliette Binoche). It should be no surprise that much of this working, and loving, relationship is built through, and inside their shared kitchen space. Masterfully crafted by director Anh Hung Tran, and beautifully photographed by cinematographer Jonathan Ricquebourg, nearly the first quarter of the movie consists of Dodin and Eugenie preparing a lavish meal. They are assisted by Violette (Galatea Bellugi) and a possible new apprentice in Pauline (Bonnie Chagneau-Ravoire).
This opening sequence of events may seem borderline unnecessary on first watch. Even if it was, it would be worth it just to see Eugenie and Dodin cook. But it is so much more than what it seems. As the moments build, we see the unspoken bond between the two. They only say a handful of words to each other, but there is a trust, a comfort, a love that is evident. It becomes more obvious as Dodin and Eugenie separately work with Pauline to see her level of skill. She is just beginning but obviously has that something. One could imagine that Eugenie also had that something, which makes her irreplaceable.
The scenes involving Pauline are also completely necessary, though they may seem to be “just” showing the intricacy of flavors in Dodin’s creations. He is, after all, the Napoleon Bonaparte of the culinary world. Of note, Napoleon, among other things, is known for tactical brilliance and providing unexpected strategy. Dodin, indeed, provides the unexpected. But to return to Pauline, her incredibly sensitive palate shows how complex the flavors are, and how difficult they are to create. This leads us, once again, back to Dodin and Eugenie. The language of their love is this exact creation, so even when it seems simple, there is complexity underneath.
There may be other characters, but they are mostly ancillary. This is, first and foremost, a love story. Binoche and Magimel are perfectly cast, and perfectly complementary. Binoche has always been a beautifully grounded and natural performer, and Tran uses this to its supreme advantage. Eugenie has no desire to be in the room when Dodin is performing the courses for guests. She knows her importance and how talented Dodin is, in and out of the kitchen. It pleases her to keep distance, with the knowledge that her work was done perfectly.
Even if all of this is true, the film is empty without the private, stolen moments between our two lovers. And, as is appropriate to them, there are few grand gestures. They are direct, flirtatious, and sometimes smirking. Due to Binoche’s controlled performance, none of these interactions is over the top, but they are all deeply felt and they stir both Dodin and the audience watching these intensely private exchanges. We know their love, their bond immediately.
The Taste of Things is not a movie to be rushed, but to be savored like a grand meal. Dodin and Eugenie have built their relationship, year after year, dish after dish, to its grand heights in the supposed autumns of their lives. It may begin with a sense of awe at the sumptuousness of the food, but ends with an understanding of connection, love, and moving forward. If we are lucky, we get to see a movie like this once a year. The Taste of Things is patient, focused, passionate, and a reward for the audience.