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  • Writer's pictureBen Pivoz

The Taste of Things


Dodin (Benoit Magimel) and Eugénie (Juliette Binoche) lovingly prepare a meal in The Taste of Things (Distributed by IFC Films, Sapan Studios and Sun Distribution)

The Taste of Things is a movie about love. Love between two soul mates, to be sure. But even more so a shared love of food. Not just eating it or savoring it. The entire process. Planning meals. Preparing them. Finding the perfect combination of dishes and serving them in concert with each other. They don’t simply want to create something delicious; they are creating great art. This lovely French drama (with English subtitles) doesn’t merely use cooking as a metaphor for its central relationship. It is the thing these two people share, that they have done together every day for over twenty years, that unites them in every way, that defines them. The passion for one another that comes with this is delicate and enchanting to watch.


It is 1885. Dodin is a renowned gourmet. Eugénie is his chef. They are joined by a deep connection that goes further than love. He wants marriage, she likes things the way they are. The story follows them as they go through their routines, executing exquisite feasts and discussing their feelings for each other.


The Taste of Things is based on the 1924 novel The Passionate Epicure by Marcel Rouff. In the hands of writer/director Anh Hung Tran it feels distinctly cinematic. The movie opens with a long sequence wherein the two main characters, aided by their servant, prepare a lavish meal together, with intense focus and a devotion to the process. With little dialogue, he establishes the rhythm of this kitchen and the joy this pair gets from their work. There is something about watching people who take tremendous pride in what they do. In the cooking scenes, they are clearly in their element. Eugénie, especially, has a delighted look on her face when she knows she is making something Dodin’s guests will enjoy.

There is not a lot in terms of plot here. The developments are emotional and flow from the relationship. Tran is far more concerned with this rewarding combination of food and love. There is so much patience in the filmmaking (an attribute that is increasingly rare these days, even in movies for adults). Lengthy shots that seem to show the actors actually working on the food or just looking at each other adoringly replace any exposition. We see who they are and how their culinary skills bond them. The screenplay gives the actors the opportunity to behave as these characters, become them as they go about their business. It is so much more compelling than contrived melodrama.


As Dodin and Eugénie, Benoit Magimel and Juliette Binoche are wonderful. They are charming, wise and mature. Magimel is constantly looking at this woman with longing. Though he has her in the sense that they share their passion for cooking every day and their physical passion fairly often, he wants to commit himself to her. He is an intelligent man, brilliant when it comes to the culinary arts, highly respected and very sure of himself. Magimel never presents that as arrogance. Dodin is a man who knows what he likes and he knows that there is no one in this world more incredible than Eugénie.


Juliette Binoche brings an entirely different sort of energy to Eugénie. When she is in the kitchen, dealing with spices, sauces, meats and vegetables, it is like she is in heaven. She is beaming as she works on the food or even as she watches Dodin. When they are alone together, there is a kind of amused mischief to her. She knows what he desires, and she desires it too, yet life is already perfect the way it is. Binoche is fantastic without saying a word, as in an early scene where she observes Dodin quiz a young gourmet prodigy on the ingredients in a dish they have made. It is easy to understand why Dodin adores Eugénie the way he does.


The Taste of Things (132 minutes, without the end credits) seems knowledgeable about food, its time period and true, boundless, love. These people do not dance around their emotions; they discuss them outright, with honesty and eloquence. This is such a beautiful movie, in visuals, as well as emotions.

 

4¼ out of 5

 

Cast:

Benoît Magimel as Dodin Bouffant

Juliette Binoche as Eugénie

Galatéa Bellugi as Violette

Bonnie Chagneau-Ravoire as Pauline

 

Directed/Written by Anh Hung Tran


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