Features Live Action Movies

The Taste of Things
(The Pot-au-Feu)
(La Passion
de Dodin Bouffant)

Director – Tran Anh Hung – 2023 – France – Cert. 12a – 145m


A nineteenth century, French gastronome tries to persuade his live-in cook to become his wife – in cinemas in the UK and Ireland from Wednesday, February 14th

1885. Eugénie (Juliette Binoche) is the live-in cook for celebrated gastronome Dodin Bouffant (Benoît Magimel). Over the years, he and his male friends have enjoyed her culinary skills. They are in a relationship: some nights, her bedroom door is unlocked and he can gain admission, other nights, it’s locked. She likes things the way they are and has no plans to marry him. However, he has other ideas…

This opens with a bravura cooking sequence in a huge, French chateau kitchen as Eugénie and her assistant Violette (Galatéa Bellugi) and Violette’s younger, visiting cousin Pauline (Bonnie Chagneau-Ravoire), with a degree of assistance from Dodin, prepare the most amazing French meal you’ve ever seen. You start to think you’re in for two and a half hours of hunger-inducing food porn when the tone starts to shift, and the threads of a plot impose themselves ever so subtly on the proceedings.

Dodin accepts a challenge from a foreign prince, used to lengthy meals that last longer than 24 hours, to cook a meal the challenger will never forget. Naturally he solicits Eugéni’s opinion, but when she starts to have fainting spells and bed rest is prescribed, he begins to cook for her in an attempt to persuade her to marry him.

Vietnamese-born Tran (Cyclo, 1995; Norwegian Wood, 2010), has a painterly visual sense, and in this film makes light almost palpable with his camera, whether illuminating steam rising from a boiling pot or casting sunlight on empty kitchen walls through a window. He also gets one of her finest performances out of Juliette Binoche who is magnificent here, whether on the go in the kitchen, having an unexpected fainting spell or just sitting at a kitchen table talking with Dodin.

Benoît Magimel is perfectly cast as Binoche’s romantic foil, while his peer group of Rabaz, a doctor (Emmannuel Salinger), Grimaud (Patrick d’Assumçao) and others memorably sit around discussing gastronomy as they sample Eugénie’s cooking. Galatéa Bellugi has a degree of presence as the maid Violette, a thankless task since she is effectively upstaged within the story (nothing to do with her performance) by her cousin Pauline, who turns out to be as obsessed with cooking as Eugénie is, indeed, with Bonnie Chagneau-Ravoire’s quiet assurance, could almost be a much younger version of her.

The plot takes some unexpected turns, which it would be a shame to reveal. Although The film runs the best part of two and a half hours, it never outstays its welcome. The culinary sequences are eye-watering, but in the end, the relationship’s the thing. A more perfect St. Valentine’s Day movie, it’s hard to imagine.

The Taste of Things (The Pot-au-Feu)is out in cinemas in the UK and Ireland on Wednesday, February 14th.

Here’s the trailer:

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