Film Review: THE TASTE OF THINGS (2023): Anh Hung Tran’s Scrumptious and Heartfelt French Film Lacks a Bit in Plot Development SuperNayr

Benoît Magimel Juliette Binoche The Taste Of Things

The Taste of Things Review

The Taste of Things (2023) Film Review, a movie directed by Anh Hung Tran, written by Marcel Rouff and Anh Hung Tran and starring Juliette Binoche, Benoît Magimel, Emmanuel Salinger, Patrick d’Assumçao, Galatéa Bellugi, Bonnie Chagneau-Ravoire, Sarah Adler, Mhamed Arezki, Chloe Lambert and Anouk Feral.

Anh Hung Tran’s new French drama, The Taste of Things, is occasionally lovely to watch, especially if you walk in after the extended cooking found in the film’s first forty minutes. The first quarter or so of this film is simply (yet elegantly) devoted to just preparing and cooking exquisite food. These early scenes could have served as an instructional video for aspiring chefs, except the movie is actually set in 1889.

Eugénie (Juliette Binoche) is the main character here and the lead chef who works for gourmet, Dodin Bouffant (Benoît Magimel). This film details the relationship between Eugénie and Dodin whose bond is pretty much unbreakable as the history of their partnership spans decades. Binoche and Magimel aren’t supposed to have too much chemistry on-screen and they really don’t have too much of a magical connection from a physical standpoint. However, as friends and colleagues, their relationship always rings true on screen thanks to confident directing by Tran and fine performances.

The opening reels are frustratingly overloaded with unnecessary details. Scrumptious looking food is sauteed in butter, pots are loaded with fish, soup broth looks rich, meat is cut, delicacies are crafted, etc. Do any of these moments coalesce to form anything resembling a plot? Initially, I would say no, but the cooking is actually the plot. Each meal that needs to be prepared feels like a challenge for Eugénie, one which she takes on regularly. Eugénie is a true professional and master of her craft and she’s guided by a couple of less aware, yet nevertheless hard-working and dedicated female teenagers, Violette (a stand-out young performer, Galatéa Bellugi) and Pauline (a decent Bonnie Chagneau-Ravoire).

There is a scene where Eugénie declares summer as her favorite season. This declaration ends up becoming a motif in the movie. Dodin disagrees with Eugénie . He likes all the seasons, pretty much equally, for all the different unique qualities that are sprinkled in, namely the given weather for each particular season. A lot of metaphors are used in the movie regarding the corresponding similarities between food and passion and the use of these metaphors are right on the money. Eugénie and Dodin have been around together for years but have not gotten involved in a romantic relationship because Eugénie rejects the idea. Why she rejects the concept is probably simply a matter of principle, though.

Much of The Taste of Things revolves around a group of male onlookers surrounding Eugénie and whoever is cooking and giving them unsolicited critiques of how well the food is coming together. It becomes a little exhausting after a while to see all the characters get into detailed conversations about the quality of the food that is being prepared. Sometimes, you may wish somebody said something inappropriate just to add some action to the slow-moving premise the movie presents to viewers.

When the movie focuses on, forgive me,  the “meat and potatoes” of the actual relationship between Eugénie and Dodin, there’s a genuine interest that audiences will have in the lead characters. Binoche and Magimel are like a well-oiled machine in terms of their charismatic personalities and although the love between them is expressed in unusual ways, the performers are in sync with one another. They play off each other like two finely tuned violins and never miss a beat in terms of their performances.

Late in the movie, the question arises if Eugénie sees herself as Dodin’s wife or his cook. While the answer is ultimately surprising, the response Eugénie gives defines the movie and what, exactly, it is trying to do. I wouldn’t dream of revealing it but the answer is both heartbreaking and soothing at the same time.

From a technical standpoint, The Taste of Things gets everything right in the scenes set in the kitchen. The food prepared in the film is so awe-inspiring, it will make you want to eat a nice big dinner as soon as it ends. But, some of the scenes drag on because they extend way past their welcome. These parts could have been tightened up a bit in the editing room.

Binoche is, ultimately, the heart and soul of the movie while Magimel’s character is the yin to Eugénie’s yang. But, near the conclusion, something happens and food is sampled to make a decision regarding a particular cook who is waiting outside for feedback. It almost feels like a certain character cannot be replaced. However, the film’s “life goes on” message is certainly valid and quite realistic, if not necessarily soothing.

France chose The Taste of Things as their official Oscar submission over Anatomy of a Fall. Both movies feel like a procedural some of the time but Anatomy of a Fall is ultimately the better film. You’ll want to eat an exquisite meal after seeing The Taste of Things but may feel suffocated, at times, by some of the extended cooking scenes the movie so prominently features.

That being said, Juliette Binoche is an international treasure and I wouldn’t have missed this film for the world. Watching Binoche as Eugénie in one of her best screen performances in years only makes one wish there was a bit more plot development to round out the film’s story line and to help do Binoche’s work more justice. But, The Taste of Things is still a good film with plenty of detailed characterizations that will win audiences over, even if one too many food items get sauteed during the duration of the movie’s overlong two hour-plus running time.

Rating: 7/10

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