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‘The Taste of Things’ Swoons and Seduces with French Food and Romance

film still from the taste of things
Courtesy of Mongrel Media

France’s Cannes-winning Oscar submission this year was Trần Anh Hùng’s The Taste of Things (La Passion de Dodin Bouffant), a historical romance between a cook (Juliette Binoche) and a gourmand (Benoît Magimel). Set in the 1880s French countryside, the film moves languidly and lavishly through the kitchen of Magimel’s Dodin, a retired chef of great esteem, where Binoche’s Eugénie produces elaborate feasts for the master of the chateau and his epicurean companions. The willful and talented Eugénie has been working for Dodin for 20 years, and over countless days of dicing mirepoix, simmering broths, roasting meats, icing pastries, and crafting menus side-by-side, the two food-lovers have grown intimate. When Eugénie suffers from poor health, Dodin proves his commitment to her through the language of food. 

Under the assured and patient direction of Hùng, The Taste of Things is a captivating celebration of French cuisine. While the two formidable leads easily win us over with their maturing season of love (there is the added meta frisson of knowing that, in real life, Binoche and Magimel were once a romantic couple), the true star is the food. Every step involved in a meal — from selecting the ingredients and cooking everything perfectly to the grand presentation and ultimate savouring of flavours — is cherished. The Taste of Things is truly a sensual feast as the camera moves nimbly through the kitchen, capturing all the work that goes into each delectable dish. We get to hear each slice, sizzle, and splash while enjoying the stunning array being lovingly prepared and eaten with gusto.

The nearly imperceptible movement of time is also crucial to the film. Hùng takes an almost Miyazakian approach to pacing and plot by having characters sit in mundane moments and gliding over excess backstory. We watch roasts being carried from the kitchen to the dining room before being cut and served with care. We never find out what Dodin’s companions do other than congregate and eat rare delicacies like ortolan or join in an invitation to dine with a crown prince. But, we spend a lot of time in Dodin’s spacious and well-appointed kitchen (which is so gorgeous and welcoming that Nancy Meyers’ set designers would be jealous), marking the passage of time by meals.

The Taste of Things relishes the beauty of natural light with sumptuous cinematography. For Eugénie and Dodin (and their helpers or guests), hours pass ever so gently by, as reflected by the subtly changing sun. From scene to scene, we get to see rays play across the kitchen walls and copper cookware, from cool early morning and bright midday to glorious golden sunset, and candlelit evening. The film’s idealized and romanticized light suffuses the screen with warmth and tenderness that suit the subjects wonderfully. Food and the French countryside never looked so magical; and Eugénie and Dodin’s autumnal love and peaceful lives seem timeless and idyllic.

For the film’s richly sensorial depiction of food (and deeply felt middle-age romance), it’s no wonder why Hùng won the Best Director award at Cannes.


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