'The Taste of Things' Review
October 29, 2023
The Taste of Things screened at the 2023 Twin Cities Film Fest. IFC Films will release it for an Oscar-qualifying run in December, followed by a limited release on February 09, 2024.
Is there a more perfect way to wake up in the morning than to the smell of sizzling eggs, crackling bacon, and onions soaked in butter? It’s what Dodin (Benoît Magimel) has awoken to every day over the past twenty years, the aroma of the fresh ingredients crawling its way from the kitchen all the way to his grand bedroom within the vast manor. “This is the best moment of the day,” he thinks as he flies down the stairs, ready to be embraced by the food and woman that he loves.
Eugénie (Juliette Binoche) has always been the head of her kitchen domain, crafting famous meals with quiet determination. She too is in love with Dodin, yet she always refuses his proposals for marriage on the grounds that matrimony will only complicate the good thing they have going for them. He’s always disappointed in her rejections, and yet he also slightly agrees with her. Together they are unstoppable; him the mastermind of intricate recipes and menus, and her the hands-on artist who brings those ideas to life.
If you were to eliminate all the scenes of cooking within The Taste of Things, you would be left with maybe thirty minutes of “plot.” I put that last word in quotations because those extended sequences of cooking tell just as much, if not more, of the story as the scenes filled with dialogue. Cooking is an intimate process for the central pair, a time when they communicate without saying a word. A scene early on sees Dodin entertaining guests with Eugénie preparing all the courses downstairs. Once it is over, all the men congratulate Eugénie and ask her to dine with them next time. She happily says that would be redundant as “what I say is already in the food.”
Writer/director Tran Anh Hung (winner of the Best Director prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival) entrances you in this process of creation. There’s a sweet harmony in witnessing the journey of the garden to the plate. The camera swerves around the kitchen, capturing the in-process cookery with sumptuous detail. Meat sizzles, water boils, spoons clank against the brass pots, the doors of the woodfire oven creak open, and the bread cracks when cut open. It’s a total ASMR experience, one that fully earns the simplistic description of “food porn” that has lovingly been bestowed upon it.
There’s little drama or stakes within The Taste of Things, which is one of its best features. There are plenty of movies (Burnt) and television shows (The Bear) that showcase the anxiety-inducing highwire act that cooking can be. There is great skill under pressure here, but Anh Hung is more interested in the slowly drawn method and how it all comes together when you are comfortable in your element. Time seems to stand still, your body and mind totally connected as one. It’s like a conductor guiding a symphony, every note being hit perfectly with reassuring calmness.
The scenes outside the kitchen are just as sumptuous as the food itself. The warm cinematography makes the gardens and fields feel like Eden. The seasons are picturesque in their beauty, leaves turning from vibrant green to bright orange, replaced by a freckling of snow. Binoche and Magimel are an electric pair within their surroundings. They project a consistent feeling of serenity, both of them aware that their love for each other is intertwined with their craft. You know what they say, the quickest way to a person’s heart is through their stomach.
There continues to be a need for stories that reflect the increasing bleakness of this world. But that means there’s more room for projects that remind us of the beauty in the timeless things we all experience and often take for granted. The Taste of Things is one of those films as it illustrates both the simplicity and complexity of sustaining ourselves through food. Just make sure to plan your meals carefully before and after seeing it. You owe your stomach (and other senses) that much.