“The Taste of Things”

IFC Films
EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN: Juliette Binoche and Benoît Magimel get a stew on in ‘The Taste of Things.’
Wednesday February 14, 2024 11:00 AM EST
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CRITIC’S PICK: 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. — Curt Holman

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