The way to an audience’s hearts is through their stomachs...
If you thought that Babette’s Feast, Tampopo or Ratatouille were cinematic food porn to get you salivating, Trần Anh Hùng’s new film is about to awaken your taste buds good and proper.
Adapted from 1924's “La vie et la passion de Dodin-Bouffant, Gourmet” (“The Life and Passion of Dodin-Bouffant, Gourmet”) by novelist and gastronomic writer Marcel Rouff, this French foodie romance has had more titles than there are ways of making the perfect vol-au-vent. La Passion de Dodin Bouffant (the original), The Pot-au-Feu (its Cannes title, where it premiered), The Taste of Things (the anglophone version)… But whatever you call it, the result remains the same: a swoon-worthy period piece that leaves a gorgeous after-taste.
Set in the idyllic southern French countryside at the tail-end of the 19th century, we meet Dodin Bouffant (Benoît Magimel), who is referred to as "the Napoleon of Gastronomy". He spends his days cooking up storms with his cook Eugénie (Juliette Binoche), who helps him prepare exquisite feasts when his well-to-do gentlemen of leisure come a’knocking. Their shared creative passion clearly extends to affairs of the heart, as they’re nuttier than a pecan pie about each other. However, Eugénie is constantly refusing the Dodin’s hand in marriage so that the personal / professional line remains intact.
Both of them are introduced to the pre-adolescent niece of an employee, Pauline (Bonnie Chagneau-Ravoire), who shows great promise in the kitchen and who would make a fine protégée.
Concurrently, Dodin is invited to attend a meal with the Prince of Eurasia, leading him to fuss over an impressive menu for the nobleman, while Eugénie’s health issues simmer in the background and threaten to complicate things...
There’s no denying that this charming, gentle gem doesn’t over-egg the soufflé when it comes to conflict and drama.
A lot of time is spent on extended sequences of the two gourmands making mouthwatering marvels to make Auguste Escoffier blush. It’s all filmed beautifully, bathed in warm light and with Jonathan Ricquebourg’s camera lightly floating through the cooking processes. The texture and sound of The Taste of Things is so stunning that you can almost smell the dishes – something of a speciality for Vietnamese-French director Trần Anh Hùng, who has made a name for himself as an ultra-sensual filmmaker with 1993’s L'Odeur de la papaye verte (The Scent of Green Papaya) and 2000’s À la verticale de l'été (The Vertical Ray of Sun).
However, beyond all its transfixing visual and auditory delights, the drama is there, hidden in plain sight. Without fully realising it – chiefly due to the hypnotic sequences in which the camera roves around ingredients and cooking procedures in the massive kitchen, providing an almost ASMR effect – the straightforward nature of the narrative reveals much more. It’s all in the nuance, as the romance between the two central protagonists subtly makes its mark, and you may find yourself shedding a few tears come curtain fall.
Both Binoche and Magimel, who reunite as an onscreen couple twenty years after their real-life separation, are superb and truly make the central theme of passion in all its declinations, as well as the call of the artistic process, soar. In unison with Trần Anh Hùng’s graceful direction (which won his Best Director at this year’s Cannes), they ensure that The Taste of Things is the elegant and heartwarming feast you need to finish the year satiated to satisfaction.
It's also been selected as France's submission for next year's Best International Feature Film at the Oscars. So maybe the culinary delights will last long enough to secure a Golden Baldie... On verra bien.
La Passion de Dodin Bouffant (The Taste of Things) premiered at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival and has started its European theatrical rollout. It will continue its release schedule throughout November, and lands in US cinemas next year.