The Taste of Things

The Taste of Things (dir. Anh Hung Tran)

By: Adam Freed

It doesn’t require an expensive culinary degree to know that great food takes time.  Memorable flavors are often the end product of a mind numbing series of gastronomical decisions that when played perfectly, reach the plate with a delicacy and balance that reveals its worth subtly over the course of a meal.  A gifted culinary mind graciously considers the impact that each micro level decision will have upon the palate.  This same otherworldly attention to detail is required of a master filmmaker.  At this curious intersection of gastronomy and film art lies director Anh Hung Tran, who whisks Oscar level craftsmanship with Michelin Star delicacy resulting in the sublime tour de force The Taste of Things.  Tran has given life to what is modestly, one of history’s greatest depictions of the culinary arts, and boldly, one of the greatest films of the decade.  

Set against the provincial allure of late 19th century France, The Taste of Things opens in the magnificent kitchen of renowned master chef Dodin Bouffant (Benoît Magimel), who as one of his nation’s most gifted culinary artists, has leveraged his passion and brilliance to elevate himself to a life of wealth and prosperity.  At Bouffant’s side is his equally gifted home cook Eugénie (Juliette Binoche), who makes clear from the film’s outset that she is every bit the culinary equal to her employer.  Anh Hung Tran’s mesmerizing opening scene allows his brilliant co-stars to engage in what can only be described as a gorgeously rendered chef’s ballet in which a mouth watering whirlwind of French cuisine is prepared in totality from the reaping of the produce in dawn’s early light, through the meal’s final immaculate presentation.  There are action franchises that will be drenched in envy by the precision and allure of the physicality and detail captured by the Vietnamese director’s first act.  Each rustic copper pot, utensil and ingredient is given the honor of reaching its full potential in a film that so obsessively lauds the process of artistry.       

The relationship that Dodin and Eugénie share gives life to the phrase that still waters run deep. The precision of their decades long partnership, it seems, has been bolstered by their long simmering feelings for one another.   Now both in the autumn of their lives, the master chef and his less nationally celebrated culinary equal share a nuanced and deep love for one another rooted in a mutual respect and appreciation for the totality of the other.  Much like the cuisine that they have mastered side by side, Dodin and Eugénie’s relationship seems to have taken its time in passionately perfecting its complex subtlety. Magimel and Binoche carefully craft their dynamic characters into beings who share a deep and mutual admiration that cannot be lazily confused as lust over love. The result of their partnership is a depiction of a romantic bond to which all people should aspire.  

There is no mistaking The Taste of Things as anything other than a masterwork. It is as much a centuries old love letter to gastronomy as it is a thoughtful demonstration of the possibilities of deep and meaningful human connection. Anh Hung Tran’s film requires a refined audience palette as it offers flavorful thematic elements that can only be enjoyed in time.  Thankfully, The Taste of Things is as delicate as the cuisine coming out of Dodin’s kitchen.  With an open hearth fire, clay tile floor, and gorgeous copper cookware, the Bouffant kitchen and Tran’s film call back to a slower time in life and in cuisine, a time in which feelings and flavors had the freedom to mature before presenting themselves for consumption.  

Target Score: 9.5 / 10 - The Taste of Things is a masterful work on all accounts and like the cuisine of a brilliant chef, there are no limits on the possibilities of its potential.  Co-stars Juliette Binoche and Benoît Magimel are a powerful reminder of the joy found in watching greatness in motion.  Simply put, Anh Hung Tran’s film is nearly perfect.