(The 61st New York Film Festival runs September 29-October 15. Check out Matt Delman’s The Taste of Things movie review. Seen it? Join the conversation with HtN on our Letterboxd Page. Note: the film was formerly known as The Pot au Feu and it’s French title is La passion de Dodin Bouffant.)
Movies rely on sight and sound, but rarely ignite the senses of taste and smell. Only a film such as Tran Anh Hung’s The Taste of Things can evoke a synesthesia that tricks our mind to believe we’re savoring a ‘Baked Alaska,’ or wafting the aroma of a fish stew. A film so focused on the culinary craft, it reminds you that The Bear is actually just one long panic attack. Hung and his actors, probably with the help of a few chef consultants, conjure up a meal in the opening of The Taste of Things that rivals any feast I’ve seen in person or onscreen. The director takes his time in the kitchen before sliding into the romance between Eugénie (Juliette Binoche) and Dodin (Benoit Magimel), which becomes the central thrust of the story.
Benoit and Binoche were a real-life couple in the past (they share a daughter), and their chemistry is still simmering to this day. Hung has reunited them in their ‘autumn’ period, as Dodin says in the film. Eugénie responds that she prefers the hot sun of summer, and that she is as full of life as ever. It’s rare to see a French film so romantic, as many in recent years focus on love triangles, affairs and open relationships. Perhaps The Taste of Things is a bit old fashioned, but that only endears the viewer more to its peculiar rhythms and warming tone. The conflict can be boiled down to a bout of fainting spells that foreshadow a more serious illness. However, the central relationship is never in danger, rather we feel their love growing stronger by the minute. Each passing scene evokes a new emotion, sewn together with beautiful transitions. One cut from Eugénie’s naked body into a pear on its side is particularly clever.
Aside from Binoche and Magimel, the two young performers who play the girls show real promise, as do their characters in the kitchen. A Persian prince invites Dodin to dinner, and the endless parade of dishes could make a belly burst. One of the diners remarks of his discomfort, only to clarify that the feeling soon passed and he was able to finish the fifth course and dessert, no problem. Speaking of bellies, there are many belly laughs throughout, as well as some ‘are you serious?’ moments, in regards to the decadence of the food. The cinematography by Jonathan Ricquebourg swirls around the stoves, out of pots and into frying pans, to put the audience right in the middle of the culinary action. The never-ending bravura tracking shots are a marvel to behold, and it’s quite a feat for the director and crew to merely stay out of the shot.
The Taste of Things was recently selected by France for the 96th Academy Awards, and some prognosticators have complained despite not even having seen the film. I can say that the audience at the New York Film Festival was completely transfixed. Though the style is more old school than Anatomy of a Fall, Hung’s (who is Vietnamese) film has its own singular charm that cannot be compared to prestige French pictures of the past. Though many of its admirers could settle for pizza, there is an aspirational aspect to this kind of cinema. Watching someone who is the best in the world at what they do, doing it exquisitely, can be immensely invigorating. The wonderful late-life romance baked into The Taste of Things is actually just a cherry on top.
– Matthew Delman (@ItsTheRealDel)
2023 New York Film Festival; Tran Anh Hung; The Taste of Things movie review