The Taste of Things – film review

Palace Electric and Dendy Canberra
From 2 May 2024
145 minutes, Rated PG
Drama, French with English subtitles

In 1885, Eugenie (Juliette Binoche), a peerless cook, has spent two decades working for the renowned gourmet Dodin (Benoît Magimel), evolving their gastronomic partnership into a romantic bond.

Their culinary creations astonish even the most esteemed chefs, yet Eugenie cherishes her independence and resists Dodin’s desire for marriage.

Dodin strives to express his love by cooking a meal for her, a move that signifies a departure from his usual role in their relationship. 

The slow pace of the film, directed by Tran Anh Hung, mirrors the dedication of Eugenie to her craft and its intensity the sensuality of her relationship with Dodin.

What we especially liked was the Director’s use of light to convey the emotional range of the film. The story moves from an almost Renaissance muted glow in the kitchen to the yellow brightness of the scenes when Dodin is serving Eugenie with a meal he cooks (including her bright yellow costume) to the faded Dutch light of the scenes of grief and then back to sunlight as grief moves to acceptance and action.

Charting a relationship through the meticulous and repeated preparation of food has its challenges. It requires energy from the viewer, energy that Juliette Binoche is adept at evoking. There is a practised stillness about this film both in direction and performance.

The role of the young girl who becomes an apprentice  to Eugenie is beautifully played by Bonnie Chagneau, who has clearly also mastered the arts of stillness and silence in performance.

Beneath the obvious surface stories there is an interesting representation of privileged masculine 19th century French society at work here. The brusqueness and disdain with which the female servants are treated will not escape our notice and is not forgivable, even if we accept the grief of Dodin.

Similarly, the serving of a lavish meal to a table of ‘gentlemen’ of high social standing and their conversations about food, wine and other matters emphasises the class divide and the blatant inequality of society at this time. One cannot help but think of Violette and other (unseen) domestic staff who have heaved heavy pots about in preparation for hours before and who will be washing up for hours afterwards!

This makes Eugenie’s independent spirit even more poignant. To the end, she is at a social disadvantage despite her prodigious talents in the culinary world.

Dodin is deferential to a degree and reverential about her cooking prowess but the sensual nevertheless plays its part in the scenario. However, Eugenie holds her ground despite the physical relationship and insists on being regarded above all for her professional skill.

Thanks to Nedco for the opportunity to review this film, which was part of the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival 2024.