Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

"Julia is a film about food and about the change in attitude towards cooking one woman could spark."

Legend has it that one filet of sole with lemon and butter altered the path of Julia Child’s life. With one omelette, she set in motion a change of the kitchen culture in America. Julie Cohen and Betsy West’s mouthwatering Oscar-shortlisted documentary Julia (a highlight of the 20th edition of DOC NYC and executive produced by Oren Jacoby) implicitly gives credit to this fish and these hens, and explicitly to the woman who appreciated so much the culinary treasures they had to offer. Seen on camera praising Julia Child and giving great insight into the hidden world of French kitchens is her friend Danièle Delpeuch, personal chef to former French President François Mitterand.

Julia is a film about food and about the change in attitude towards cooking one woman could spark. Based on Julia’s great-nephew, Alex Prud’homme’s book, The French Chef in America: Julia Child's Second Act, directors West and Cohen (of RBG fame), trace her career and enlighten us about what was at stake. During the post-war 1950s, The US saw a decline in the quality of food unlike any other.

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As though it had been an orchestrated attempt, consumers were pushed through advertising towards the processed and the canned, the packaged and the frozen, the bland and the dyed. Spam with pineapple and Jell-o with marshmallows paved the way for the nutrient-free fast food horrors of today and the documentary doesn’t spare us the images.

From her privileged background, growing up in Pasadena, California with avocado and lemon trees in the garden to graduating Smith College without a plan for a career, as this was not a consideration for girls, Julia Child’s path was not preordained. During the Second World War she worked with spies for the OSS, precursor to the CIA, and met her husband Paul while both were stationed in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka. After they get married, Paul is transferred to France and Julia’s love affair with French cooking begins.

Yves Montand croons about the pleasures there are about to experience Sous le ciel de Paris, the marvellous markets and bakeries beckon, and Julia enrols at the fabled Cordon Bleu cooking school to learn all the codified secrets which form the basis of classic French cuisine. With her friend Simca, Julia embarks on writing a cookbook for American audiences which is rejected by Houghton Mifflin, because they believe the American housewife “might be frightened by it.”

Ultimately, Julia’s TV show, which started as a test run on Boston’s public station in 1962, became an enormous success and changed American kitchens for the better forever. The documentary points out that Julia Child was able to grow and change with the times. She became an advocate for Planned Parenthood and raised money for AIDS research. Despite the delicious looking footage, butter overkill is not the message here, as certainly Julia would have come around to embrace more sustainable eating habits eventually.

Before watching Julia, you may want to stock up on green beans and potatoes and other favourite ingredients to prepare your own version of the end credit miracle - the Salade Niçoise.

Reviewed on: 28 Dec 2021
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Documentary portrait of the influential TV chef.
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