The Taste Of Things: The BRWC Review

The Taste Of Things: The BRWC Review

The Taste Of Things: The BRWC Review. By Joe Muldoon.

Over the span of seven feature-length films, Trần Anh Hùng has established himself as one of the most unique storytellers in cinema today. Substituting words for actions, his emotions are conveyed through the language of bodies and movements. In his newest film, for which he won the Best Director award at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, Hùng writes poetry through the most complex foods.

For twenty years, chef Dodin (Benoît Magimel) was the owner of a famous gourmet restaurant, the astoundingly talented Eugénie (Juliette Binoche) working closely by his side, the two developing delectable dishes together. Though deep feelings for one another grew over the years, Eugénie showed consistent reluctance to full commitment, valuing her freedom and craft.



Now, the two live with one another, Eugénie still cooking privately for the retired restaurateur, decorated chefs and acquaintances travelling from across the world to taste her food. The offerings are almost incomprehensibly impressive, many of them being nearly unrecognisable as food. The cuisinier very aptly quips to Dodin, “I converse with you in the dining room through what you eat”, and this is as much her character talking as it is Hùng speaking through her – what the film lacks in substantial dialogue, it makes up for in Eugénie’s food. As she remains reluctant to solidify any romantic commitment to Dodin, he takes it upon himself to reverse their roles and to start cooking for his beloved chef.

The Taste of Things takes food beyond its gastronomic capabilities and elevates it to the bounds of art. In places, food is curdled into bourgeois excess, one meal provided by an enthusiastic foreign prince’s chef lasting around eight hours, the courses and dishes becoming a dizzying laundry list of delicacies. It is also taken to its extremes, Dodin’s friends feasting upon orlotans in the traditional manner, the diners consuming the little birds under their dinner towels, shielded from God’s eyes, their decadence outweighing their humanity.

The film allows the food to tell its own story, but therein lies what is potentially a fundamental problem. If you have little or no understanding of gourmet food prior to watching, the true depth that the film offers to gastronomes may be missed. It is much like reading Baudelaire’s poetry in its original form without a command of the French language; though you can recognise the rhythmic lyricism and cadence of his writing, it is difficult to fully appreciate it without understanding what it truly means.

Hùng’s distinctive storytelling style will make his picture partially inaccessible to many viewers, an expressive language not shared in common. It seems rather fitting that Dodin remarks that ”it takes culture and a good memory to shape one’s taste” – without sharing the same culture, much of the culinary brilliance is lost in translation. To be clear, the craftsmanship behind his story is undeniable; few love stories have been developed so delicately through delicacies.

Though their performances are deliberately muted in order to allow for the cuisine to become the central character in itself, Binoche and Magimel have genuine chemistry with one another, Dodin and Eugénie’s affections shown with careful, subtle beauty. For a period piece set in the late 19th century, something about it feels so timeless. The dishes may be slightly dated (and occasionally alien) to its audience, but the emotions expressed are not. As life imitates art, The Taste of Things may be out of reach for many, but for those who regard gastronomy as an artform, it will likely leave a very pleasant taste in their mouths.


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