SCREEN TIME: Yes, Chef!
France reclaims the foodie film with delicious ‘The Taste of Things’
Moviegoers might start feeling hungrier at the cinema as “foodie films” are making a comeback. Sumptuously photographed movies centered on cooking and eating marvelous meals have never been plentiful — they’re like the amuse-bouche of film genres. Increased interest in restaurant culture and the popularity of cooking programs like “Great British Baking Show” and “The Bear” have sent filmmakers back to the kitchen.
Foodie films emerged as a distinct microgenre in the mid-1980s with Japan’s Tampopo and Denmark’s Babette’s Feast. Since then, terrific entries have bubbled up every few years, like Eat Drink Man Woman and Big Night, with 2022’s sleeper The Menu serving a more darkly comedic take.
Several of these mouth-watering masterpieces showcased French cooking, including Babette’s Feast and Pixar’s Ratatouille. Ironically, none of the transcendent foodie films were actually from France until now with the release of the sublime The Taste of Things, opening in Atlanta Feb. 14.
Oscar-winner Juliette Binoche plays Eugénie, a cook at the country manor of Dodin (Benoît Magimel), himself a talented chef and gourmet. Set in 1885, the film’s first 30 minutes present a day in and around the kitchen while Eugénie and her assistants, including Dodin, prepares one of her great meals. Director Trần Anh Hùng tracks the shifts in light from gathering produce in the garden before sunrise to igniting the Basked Alaska for desert at dusk.
The extended sequence, like the rest of the movie, is low on dramatic incident while feasting on the process. With charismatic people working in concert in a lovely, sun-drenched setting, the kitchen can seem to the viewer like Heaven on earth — and you can only imagine the flavors. It’s the diametric opposite of the pressure-cooker kitchens of “The Bear” and the like.
The audience gradually learn that Eugénie and Dodin are longtime lovers and that she has always rejected his marriage proposals as a sign of her independence. Binoche and Magimel give low-key but exquisite performances as a couple in a mature relationship who mostly share their emotions through food, until a health scare throws everything out of balance. The film’s melancholy final act is inevitably deflating compared to what came before, but still feels appropriate to the story.
The sensuousness of foodie films frequently make them double as romances but many also use them as a means to explore being an artist. Cooking may be the most relatable art form (even as a metaphor for art) that can be shown on film, since all audiences eat and most have some experience with cooking. We appreciate that Eugénie is a great artist uninterested in big-city restaurants and content to practice her craft for Dodin and his gourmet buddies, who are like the 19th century equivalent of folks who share food photos on Instagram.
France’s official entry (over the superb Anatomy of a Fall) for Best International Feature at this year’s Oscars, The Taste of Things is a great date night movie. It may not be an ideal choice for a first date — viewers who prefer films that are highly plot-driven may not warm to it. But it’s a beautiful exploration of the pleasures of food, love and life itself. Just be sure to make reservations afterwards for your favorite restaurant, because The Taste of Things will leave you both satisfied and ravenous.
Argylle — A sheltered author of spy novels (Bryce Dallas Howard) gets pulled into a world of espionage by a secret agent (Sam Rockwell). Director Matthew Vaughn has most recently helmed the three Kingsman action movies, which may not bode well for this action-comedy.
Fri., Feb. 2. Atlanta area theaters.
Grosse Pointe Blank — A middling success on its 1997, this cult comedy depicts a morose hitman (John Cusack) who attends his 10th high school reunion. Cusack will be in attendance for a post-screening Q&A.
8 p.m. Fri., Feb. 2. Atlanta Symphony Hall, 1280 Peachtree St. NE 30309. 404-733-4400. aso.org
My Fair Lady — An arrogant professor (Rex Harrison) teaches a Cockney flower seller (Audrey Hepburn) to pass as a lady in high society in this classic musical. Fathom Events presents a 60th anniversary screening of this winner of eight Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director.
Sun., Feb. 4, and Mon., Feb. 5. Atlanta area theaters. fathomevents.com/events
A Matter of Life and Death An R.A.F. pilot (David Niven) falls in love with a radio operator (Kim Hunter) before a deadly crash, but when he inexplicably survives, agents of the afterlife intervene. One of director Michael Powell’s greatest films, this 1946 romantic fantasy intercuts between the Technicolor living world and a black-and-white afterlife featuring a literal stairway to Heaven.— Curt Holman
Tue., Feb. 6. Tara Theatre, 2345 Cheshire Bridge Rd. NE, Atlanta, 30324. taraatlanta.com
I Wanna Hold Your Hand — A group of teenage Beatle fans go to desperate lengths to see the Fab Four’s 1964 U.S. debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Director Robert Zemeckis made his debut with this 1978 screwball comedy that these days is very hard to find. Character actor Eddie Deezen is scheduled to be in attendance.
7 p.m. Wed., Feb. 14. Plaza Theatre, 1049 Ponce de Leon Ave NE, Atlanta, 30306. plazaatlanta.com
Lisa Frankenstein — Set in 1989, this horror comedy depicts a Goth girl (Kathryn Newton) who reanimates a handsome Victorian corpse (Cole Sprouse). Screenwriter Diablo Cody seems to be blending the teen humor of Juno with the spooky satire of Jennifer’s Body.
Opens Fri., Feb. 9. At area theaters.
Atlanta Jewish Film Festival — The 24th annual Atlanta Jewish Festival presents a program of 60 documentary and narrative features and shorts from 20 countries. The AJFF opens Feb. 13 with Irena’s Vow, a historical drama about a nurse who saved Polish Jews during the Holocaust. On Feb. 26, the AJFF presents its closing night film, Shari and Lamb Chop, a documentary about the decades-spanning career of sock puppeteer Shari Lewis.
Tue., Feb. 13 — Mon., Feb. 26, with titles available to stream through March 7. Atlanta Jewish Film Festival. Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center and other local venues. ajff.org
Madame Web — Cassandra Webb (Dakota Johnson) discovers that her psychic abilities warn her of a threat menacing three other unique women (Sydney Sweeney, Isabela Merced and Celeste O’Connor). Like Venom and Morbius, this is one of Sony Pictures’ films about supporting characters from Spider-Man comics, without featuring Spider-Man onscreen.
Opens Wed., Feb. 14. Atlanta area theaters
The Bridges of Madison County — A magazine photographer (Clint Eastwood) has an unlikely romance with an Italian G.I. bride (Meryl Streep) in this 1997 romantic tear-jerker directed by Eastwood.
11 a.m. Sat., Feb. 17-Sun., Feb. 19. The Sandy Springs Cinema & Taphouse, 5920 Roswell Rd., Sandy Springs, GA 30328. springscinema.com
Drive-Away Dolls — Margaret Qualley and Geraldine Viswanathan play mismatched friends who go on a road-trip and get caught up with bumbling criminals. Colman Domingo, Beanie Feldstein and Pedro Pascal co-star in this crime comedy from Ethan Coen, normally seen directing American classics like Fargo with his brother Joel.
Fri., Feb. 23. At area theaters.