The Taste of Things (2023)

‘Taste’ is a recipe for love

By Al Alexander

Food is love and love is food. It’s a symbiotic relationship that tantalizes the taste buds as well as the heart, often accented by heat. It’s part of the natural order. And it defines a substantial portion of Trần Anh Hùng’s scrumptiously delicious “The Taste of Things,” an appetizing ode to the simmering passion ignited by two chefs whenever they get cooking.

Much like a 1982 Lafite, ex-lovers Juliette Binoche and Benoȋt Magimel possess a boldness and complexity that must be slowly savored to fully appreciate the bouquet of performances that are fresh, classy and intense. It’s almost unfathomable that their real-life marriage failed given the fire they generate in the kitchen as well as the boudoir. It’s a hunger borne of intimacy and time. And only actors as seasoned as Binoche and Magimel can appreciate how age and experience heighten the senses.

That, of course, includes taste. What touches the lips touches the soul. Both Binoche’s Eugenie and Magimel’s Dodin are the embodiment of such maxim, finding great pleasure in studying texts and recipes and then developing and consuming each dish – together. For them, the connection is very much an integral part of foreplay, as they blend disparate ingredients into creations that are altogether orgasmic. And when it comes to communicating this action and reaction, Trần is hip to the notion that it’s better to show than to tell.

He and cinematographer Jonathan Ricquebourg convey the seductiveness of food preparation with multiple shots of raw flesh and phallic produce being sensually caressed before they are thrust into boiling cauldrons. For many, it will be enough to whet your appetite for sustenance as well as sex. But I fear non-foodies might see it differently. They will likely find the intricacies of haute

cuisine a bit of a bore. Clearly, they are not the target audience.

The ranks Trần seeks to touch are the devotees of the culinary arts, and the chefs committed to creating dishes that not only tickle the palate but honor nature through the use of meat and produce that, like that served by Dodin and Eugenie, is raised in house. Nothing is taken for granted and no slip-ups will be tolerated. In many ways, it’s like filmmaking, and Trần (“The Scent of Green Papaya”) exhibits a deep love for both.

It shows in the level of playfulness he affords Binoche and Magimel. In the kitchen, Didon and Eugenie are all business. But at the end of the day, it’s time for boasting and flirting – shamelessly. A running theme is Dodin’s persistent proposals of marriage, all shot down by Eugenie who is perfectly happy with the current arrangement. That being friends with benefits, which is quite a radical concept considering “The Taste of Things” is set in 19th century France. But there is decorum in that Dodin is only permitted inside Eugenie’s bed chamber on the nights when her door is left unlocked.

It’s very sexy. Not to mention kind of adorable. But like all delightful feasts, it must regrettably come to an end. Fate is sometimes a foe of love. And so it is here. Trần does little to conceal the impending tragedy. In fact, it’s so obvious that it warrants downgrading the film a notch. Full disclosure, I’m also a bit resentful that France picked it, not the superior “Anatomy of a Fall,” as its entry in the race for this year’s foreign language Oscar. You wonder if there are second thoughts now that “Fall” has garnered five Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, while “Things” received zilch.

Ah, hindsight! No, it’s not a perfect movie, but it’s no also-ran, either. In many ways, it’s quite yummy, enhanced by all the right ingredients, including the wonderfully expressive Bonnie

Chagneau-Ravoire as Pauline, a young girl Eugenie and Dodin hope to mentor. Watching her bite into baked Alaska for the first time is a real treat and it’s all there in her ever-widening eyes. More importantly, her Pauline is symbolic of the significance of passing on recipes through the generations. It’s as much a part of the cooking experience as the love and dedication shared by chefs the world over. But the element of “The Taste of Things” that stands out the most is the joy derived from the craft as well as the consumption. You’ll eat it up.

Movie review

The Taste of Things

Rated: PG-13 for some sensuality, smoking and partial nudity

Cast: Juliette Binoche, Benoȋt Magimel, Galatea Bellugi and Bonnie Chagneau-Ravoire

Director: Trần Anh Hùng

Writer: Trần Anh Hùng

Runtime: 135 minutes

Where: In theaters Feb. 14

Grade: B+

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