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Featured Review

The Taste Of Things ★★★



Released: 14 February 2024

Director: Tran Anh Hung

Starring: Juliette Binoche, Benoît Magimel

Food and wine are instantly recognised to be key components of French culture. French cuisine is renowned worldwide for the quality of its ingredients and the meticulous care taken within the food preparation and the pairing of ingredients with good quality French wine. Having a film dedicated to food and gastronomical flair is therefore not surprising. The Taste of Things (La Passion de Dodin Bouffant) by Tran Anh Hung is a sumptuous, romantic film for foodies and Francophiles. It is designed to tempt the taste buds by joining the canon of other mouth-watering French food films such as La Grande Bouffe, Babette’s Feast, Chocolat and Couscous (La Graine et Le Mulet).

Based on the book The Life and Passion of Dodin Bouffant by Marcel Rouff, and taking gastronomy inspiration from Brillat-Savarin’s book, The Taste of Things offers its audience an immersive, passionate journey within the kitchens through the eyes of a food lover, Dodin played by Benoît Magimel and his long-term chef Eugénie, played by a charming Juliette Binoche. From garden to plate, Hung spares no details within this culinary adventure.

Indeed, the introduction to Eugénie is whilst she chooses vegetables from a garden. The emphasis is on selecting natural, organic produce grown within the relevant season with the camera swirling around and moving in closely to showcase the beauty of the land in its natural glory. Panning and swooning as the action moves to the kitchen, each step between Eugénie, Dodin and their apprentices, Violette and Pauline, as ingredients are passed between them and simmering liquids are revealed beneath pot lids are designed to entice. All of which is sensually documented by the camera with good lighting and naturalistic sounds.

There is no denying the musicality within such scenes and the precise choreography as Dodin unveils the recipes for Eugénie to interpret. The high levels of communication and chemistry between Binoche and Magimel are sublime to witness with their love for food as evident as the passion their characters display. Even within scenes where Eugénie lovingly prepares the dishes in the kitchen with the young girls, with close ups on chopping vegetables, laying the table and choosing the wine, she remains inconspicuous and prefers to eat in the kitchen rather than at the table with Dodin and his food loving friends.

Hung deliberately allows the audience to conjure up their own interpretation of the dynamics between Dodin and Eugénie with minimal exposition. Dodin describes himself and Eugénie as being within their ‘Autumn Years’ and the exquisite cinematography delights in showcasing the changing of the seasons across the vast land as the dining moves from the comfortably cosy kitchen to dining al fresco dining the summer months. Despite the film being set in the late 19th century, it is only in those moments where Eugénie chooses to separate herself from the company of the men that feelings of inequality seep in to the frame.

Hung’s preference has been to showcase the love story with food as opposed to providing a social commentary of life in France during such era. When Dodin is presented with a challenge to create a menu for royalty his response is to prepare a simple dish that is traditionally French but with an emphasis on good ingredients and craftsmanship. Hung appears to share the same admiration for gastronomy, with regular references to chef Auguste Escoffier. Additionally, Hung enlisted the assistance of the Michelin starred chef Pierre Gagnaire, who also stars in a blink and you’ll miss it role, to create some of the dishes. Hung’s attention to detail was recognised by his award of the Best Director prize for the 2023 Cannes Film Festival.

The Taste of Things is a sweeping, beautifully shot film which highlights love and loss in the context of food. It is a captivating insight in to the dedication required where food can be compared to being both a science and a work of art. Hung’s rhythmic, artistic flair works well with this patient, poetic film which juxtaposes the austere with the sublime to lightly whet the audience’s appetite but lacks any complex spices as a storyline.

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