The Taste of Things
Another delectable French film that celebrates its sensuality, particularly as it relates to food, romance and finding your own way. Starring the incomparable Juliette Binoche.
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Juliette Binoche has been an international star for more than 35 years now and her ability to choose and inhabit memorable roles shows no signs of waning — nor does her allure as an enduring sex symbol.
In “The Taste of Things” she co-stars with Benoît Magimel as a romantic couple who have been brought together as much by their love of food as their mutual attraction. Set in pastoral France in the late 1800s, it’s a film that openly celebrates its embrace of sensuality, particularly as it relates to food, romance and finding your own way.
The French are acknowledged masters at these things, and love to make movies combining them. Though I should mention that writer/director Anh Hung Tran hails from Vietnam, and has his own history with food-adjacent movies (“The Scent of Green Papaya”).
Titled “The Passion of Dodin Bouffant” in France, Magimel stars as that character, a famous chef who seems to have retired from active restaurateuring and has moved to the countryside to explore his love of cooking on his own timetable. He has a coterie of male friends from the area, all with their own professions but a shared love of fine food.
They like to get together at each other’s houses and stuff themselves while wearing the finest suits and accessories. In probably the strangest sequence, they cook little birds called ortolans that are then eaten whole, bones and all, while draping a towel over their heads to keep any stray aromas from escaping.
(After stuff like this, I never want to hear another foreigner complain about Americans’ love of ranch dressing.)
Binoche plays Eugénie, who came to be employed by Dodin as his kitchen assistant but soon evolved into his partner in cuisine and lover. She is the one very much in charge of their relationship, refusing his many proposals of marriage. He is content to be the passenger in the journey she is steering.
They move about the kitchen together in an intricate, unspoken pas de deux like longtime dance partners, this one pulling something out of the oven just as the other has finished making the sauce to go on top of it. Making food is their happy place, possibly even moreso than eating it, and one senses they could happily go on like this until their graves beckon.
Then some things happen, because otherwise the movie would be very short. Violette, a local girl of perhaps 12 or 13 years, is introduced as a possible apprentice. Played by Galatea Bellugi, she seems to have an innate sense of taste and smell that astound Dodin and Eugénie. Her parents are very poor, making it unlikely they could support her formal training as a chef, but in time Eugénie and Dodin come to regard her as a surrogate daughter.
There’s also a subplot about a member of foreign royalty who travels through the area and hears of Dodin’s table, and invites him to sample his own — more as a challenge than an invitation. Listening to the clod’s chef recite the overly complicated menu before the meal, we come to appreciate the delicate simplicity of Dodin’s recipes.
There really isn’t much more to “The Taste of Things” than that. It’s light on storytelling but fills us sumptuously with an appreciation for taking one’s time about the things that matter to us, and cleaving to those who share our passions. True happiness is something we create, not just consume.