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Film Review: The Taste of Things

FILM REVIEW
THE TASTE OF THINGS
Rated PG-13
135 Minutes
Released February 9th 

Official submission from France for Best International Feature Film in the 2024 Academy AwardsWinner of several international cinema awards

The Taste of Things is a beautiful cinematic poem about humanity, the joys of life, and the sorrow of death – told through the sensual motions of the art of creating sumptuous dishes from fresh local ingredients in a rustic kitchen. This kitchen happens to be in a French country house belonging to a gentleman we would today call a “Foodie,” but in this setting in the late 1800’s, he would be called a gourmand. This was a magical time when food came from the garden and the local landscape, was carried into the house, prepared, and cooked. Don’t expect a gripping mystery or an action thriller here. Watching this movie is like bingeing Diners Drive-ins and Dives in the 19th-century French countryside. The scenes of food being prepared are so beautifully staged they will draw you in completely, especially if you watch this movie on an empty stomach.

Vietnamese-French director Tran Anh Hung wanted every shot to be authentic; often, the food you see in films is represented by substances such as glue and shaving cream and coated with motor oil. To make it camera-ready, Tran refused to use anything but real food. The only changes he had to render were making some of the produce look less symmetrical as if it had come out of the garden in the 19th Century, not from today’s supermarket. Shooting with real food was not easy, as a scene can seldom be perfected in one take, so many pounds of each item were needed. Tran creates a ballet out of the mundane tasks of food being prepared and consumed. The actors’ perceived skill at handling the fish, poultry, meats, and vegetables is beautifully captured by cinematographer Jonathan Ricquebourg.

Those actors include the always superb Juliette Binoche, Benoit Magimel (who happens to have been married to Juliette at one time,) and two young French actresses, Galaea Bellugi and Bonnie Chagneau-Ravoire – a small cast of humans and a large cast of culinary ingredients. Tran brought in the assistance of food historian Patrick Rambourg and Michelin three-star chef Pierre Gagnaire to make sure the food was as authentic as the relationship between Binoche and Magimel. Gagnaire made sure the recipes were accurate, and he cooked for Tran for five days so the director could study his movements in the kitchen. Gagnaire also has a small part in the film. The dishes made on set turned out so delicious the cast took home leftovers at night. Gagnaire called the movie a gift, “an homage to my technique, to my creativity.”

I’m so glad that the producers did not try to dub this film. The enchanting, soft harmonies of the French language sometimes impart as much meaning as the words themselves, and they are an accompaniment to the sensual respect these characters have for the food they are working with.

This movie will make you realize that the love of beautifully prepared food and the love of one another come from shared senses. As Tran notes, “In life, we have two sources of sensuality. It’s love and food.” You will leave this film fully realizing how, when everything we eat comes packaged, processed, pre-cut, and often pre-cooked, we have sadly become out of touch with our planet Earth. Maybe we need to work on getting that relationship back.

Kathryn Whitney Boole has spent most of her life in the entertainment industry, which has been the backdrop for remarkable adventures with extraordinary people.  She is a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. kboole@gmail.com

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