Film Reviews
Photo courtesy of IFC Films

The overwhelming, sensuous appeal of food makes Vietnamese director Anh Hung Tran’s “The Taste of Things” a visual treat with incisive commentary on late nineteenth century French aristocracy. Tranquil and restrained, the story focuses on the ripening twenty-year relationship between expert cook Eugénie and her employer Dodin Bouffant.

Swiss writer Marcel Rouff’s “The Passionate Epicure” pays homage to Anthelme Brillat-Savarin and is allegedly the first novel, originally published in 1920, devoted to gastronomical celebration. Adapting that novel, co-writer Tran explores the intricate, delicate fusion of the love for perfectly prepared food and for the chef who creates it. Following from that, wealthy Dodin becomes enamored of Eugénie who resists his proposals of marriage, and so he begins to cook for her.

The French title, “La Passion de Dodin Bouffant,” more accurately identifies the essence of Dodin and Eugénie’s romantic relationship, one activated by Eugénie’s delectable concoctions in the kitchen, all revered by Dodin’s gourmet palate. Set in 1885, the class structure and condescending attitude toward non-Europeans informs subplots, as do health concerns amidst some upbeat humor. Appreciative nods include mention of Antonin Carême, the foremost Parisian pâtissier in the early 1800s, and his successor, Georges Escoffier, who codified haute cuisine.

Beautifully choreographed, especially the initial scenes in the kitchen, as grim moments intrude, cinematographer Jonathan Ricquebourg darkens and constricts ravenously beautiful compositions. The always captivating Juliette Binoche as Eugenie is paired with and matched by Benoît Magimel as Dodin, along with excellent supporting performances.

At Telluride, where I first saw the film, I left this film for foodies and lovers of beautiful cinema longing for a gourmet meal. Among other nominations and awards, it was France’s submission for the Best International Feature Film Oscar. Tran Anh Hung did win Best Director at last year’s Cannes Film Festival in the prestigious Palme d’Or competition. “The Taste of Things” is in French with English subtitles. Check listings.

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