The Taste Of Things

*****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Taste Of Things
"While the end result is important, Hùng’s film is all about savouring the moment, something that becomes more urgent as it progresses - although talk of speed has little place in a film that unfolds with the pace and beauty of a flower." | Photo: Courtesy of San Sebastian Film Festival

Eugénie (Juliette Binoche) and Dodin Bouffant (Benoît Magimel) go about their work in a large kitchen with grace and care in this adaptation of Marcel Rouff’s book. It’s the 1880s France so there are no gadgets here, just graft and an oven to die for. The pair cook together in mostly companionable silence, with their helper Violette (Galatea Bellugi), to bring together a meal that is fit to make cinemagoers’ stomachs grumble as we enviously look on. Their movements suggest a symbiosis that can only be achieved over time, simmering gently just as the Pot-au-Feu of the original French title needs to do in order to achieve the perfect harmonious result.

This gourmand and his cook appear like a long-wed couple, and in many ways they are. Their marriage, however, has not been via vows but stems from a shared commitment to the culinary arts that has led to a slow-burn romance, which also gently simmers through the course of Tràn Anh Hùng sensuous film.

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The director is as committed to detail as his characters, treating each object and movement in the kitchen and the rest of Dodin’s sprawling country home as something which deserves careful consideration. And as the couple baste their food in a variety of sauces, Hùng bathes his film in a full spectrum of light. From an afternoon glow to early morning rays as they bounce off crockery, this is not just the look but the taste of sunshine. The Taste Of Things - so gauche a title in comparison to its contents - is not just a visual treat, it carries with it a soulful romance. Eugénie and Dodin are already in love, with each other and with the food they lavishly prepare for guests, but Hùng lovingly creates the heat of expectation as he holds out the tantalising prospect of their deepening commitment. The performances of Binoche and Magimel are perfectly pitched, their personal history as a couple once in real life only serving to heighten the frisson.

While the end result is important, Hùng’s film is all about savouring the moment, something that becomes more urgent as it progresses - although talk of speed has little place in a film that unfolds with the pace and beauty of a flower. Jonathan Ricquebourg’s cinematography will have you practically feeling the warmth of a freshly baked brioche that visitors to Eugénie’s kitchen greedily tear at, dying to reach out to crack the pastry of a steaming vol-au-vent or pondering whether you might be able to recreate a baked Alaska (enjoyably called a “Norwegian omelette” in French) in your own home. Hùng celebrates the eroticism of anticipation, from Dodin’s uncertainty as to whether Eugénie’s bedroom will be unlocked on the nights he makes his way to her, to the look on her face as she views a dessert his has slaved over for her for hours.

All this light has a shadow, which increasingly enters the picture. This is a film that builds to its poignant moments but not in a sentimental way. Love here is all about putting in the effort and tasting the sweet result of that, which though it may not last forever in the moment, will always be a feast for the memory.

Reviewed on: 20 Oct 2023
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The story of Eugenie, an esteemed cook, and Dodin, the fine gourmet she has been working for over the last 20 years.

Director: Trân Anh Hùng

Writer: Trần Anh Hùng

Starring: Juliette Binoche, Benoît Magimel, Pierre Gagnaire

Year: 2023

Runtime: 134 minutes

Country: France


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