A celebration of food on film


“The Taste of Things” opens at the M.V. Film Center on Friday, March 22. French-Vietnamese Anh Tran Hung directed this celebration of food, and it stars Juliette Binoche and Benoit Magimel, who were actually partners 20 years ago. The film won a Cannes Palme d’Or for Best Director, as well as three French César nominations, including one for cinematography.

The film begins with Binoche, as the cook Eugenie, collecting vegetables from the garden outside. The time is 1889. Eugenie takes the vegetables into the kitchen where, often smiling, she uses them with obvious pleasure to prepare a sumptuous meal with help from Violette (Galatéa Bellugi), her young apprentice. Each step in the preparation is depicted in close-up before the meal is presented to her superior, the celebrated cook Dodin Bouffant (Benoit Magimel). Pauline (Bonnie Chagneau-Ravoire), Violette’s niece, joins this culinary group.

After eating an omelet prepared by Eugenie, Dodin joins in the food preparation, and he instructs the two girls in the nature of the foods being used. Bird cries are the primary sound effect, emphasizing that this is summer, as well as a natural world.

Smells, along with the flavors of the food, become an important attribute, as well as the use of hands in working with it. Copper pans play an obvious role in depicting the cooking. The proximity with which Dodin and Eugenie often work suggests an intimacy that will grow throughout the film, and add a romantic dimension to it.

Friends of Dodin eating a meal expand the number of characters that are part of the narrative, and help the film not become dull. At one point during a meal, they drape cloth napkins over their heads in order to smell the food in their meal, a dramatic visual effect; at another time, a prince in exotic dress comes to visit and provide a menu for the dinner he plans to offer Dodin.

The subtlety with which Eugenie’s illness is introduced comes when she spends time alone in her bedroom, and later when Dodin comes looking for her and she insists that she is fine. Another time, disturbed, he finds her leaning against a tree, apparently asleep.

Several scenes in which Eugenie appears nude suggest a sensuality in the narrative. The marriage of Dodin and Eugenie may seem like the film’s climax, but that is not the case. The scenes that follow illustrate Dodin’s feelings. He rejects the cooks that are presented to him, although he accepts the presence of Pauline.

The surprising quality of beauty in “The Taste of Beauty” can be seen as a metaphor for life itself, for the importance not just of food but also for the sensuality of preparing and eating it. It is a film not to be missed.

Information and tickets are available at filmsociety.com.