The Food Club – Film review

Palace Electric Canberra from 4 February 2021
99 minutes, rated M
Danish with English subtitles

Falling comfortably in the currently popular genre of stories centred on female friendships and self-discovery in mature years, The Food Club has been compared with Eat, Pray, Love, and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

In the beginning we see a trio of young women- Marie, Vanja and Berling – participating in women’s liberation protests and enjoying carefree play in the water together, espousing the motto of one of their grandmas – hakuna matata (no worries).

Jump to the present day and each of the women has her own worries – overwork, disconnection with family and grief after the death of a husband. Things take off on Christmas Eve when Marie finds out that her husband has another woman just around the corner and he wants a divorce. Horribly miserable, she wonders what will become of her life.

But above all, what will she do with an Italian cuisine tasting course for two just received as a present from her children? (Let’s face it, a far superior gift than the iron which husband Henrik has given her).

She meets up with the two girlfriends from her youth, for whom she has had little time lately due to the pressures of her work as accountant and book-keeper  in the family business, and they decide to all go on the course in the breath-takingly beautiful setting of  Puglia, Italy!

All the features of a novelesque journey of self-discovery are there – beautiful scenery, great food, a convivial, handsome,  insightful and charming cooking instructor, interesting fellow guests, walks in the vines, traditional village life and the inevitable obstacles and fallings out. And certainly the sun-washed backdrop of this part of the film has us all hankering for the travel we are currently denied.

Marie can’t think of anything but her husband and how to win him back; Vanja can’t manage to let herself go with a man who isn’t her long dead beloved spouse; Berling continues to think only of herself and to refuse to acknowledge the passing of time. But at the end of the five days, needless to say, the three friends will not be the same.

Whilst the story line is predictable and not altogether original, the gentle treatment on the deficits of ageing is a pleasure to watch. Berling’s minor incontinence incident and tearful statement that ‘getting old sucks’ is an opportunity for the mending of a rift and for the viewer to ruefully sympathise. The depiction of the shift each woman is able to make into both a new stage of self and a new way of relating to both family and friends is a major strength of this film.

The film invites us to consider friendship, the way we sometimes remain silent when we should speak, and the reverse, the possibilities of our mature years and our capacity to bounce back and redefine ourselves after change, loss and grief of various sorts.

I can forgive the film any of its stereotyping and reliance on the trope because of the compassionate gaze of director Barbara Topsøe-Rothenborg and her empathetic treatment of the ageing woman and all her challenges. The three actresses deliver solid performances and relate to one another well on screen.

This film will find an audience in the mature female film goer, but it is certainly worth both genders and younger viewers considering its story and resolutions. After all, we all get to this point and/or live through it with our parents.

Thanks to Ned & Co Marketing and Publicity for the opportunity to preview the film.