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Lê Bảo Taste Review


Taste | Review

Taste | Review

In the Realm of the Senses: Le Bao Explores Oblique Pleasures in Handsome Debut

Lê Bảo Taste ReviewVietnamese filmmaker Lê Bảo announces himself as an immediate director of note with his stunningly photographed debut, Taste. Grappling with larger subtexts of isolationism and colonialism, it’s an otherwise austere journey which marries blatant themes of sexuality and pleasure with desperate escapism resulting in numbing, emotional squalor. On paper, it sounds like a perverted exercise of sensationalism filled with idiosyncrasies bordering on the bizarre, even laughable. But whatever the takeaway from this meditative portrait of the primordial Garden of Eden, it’s sure to leave an impression.

Bassley (Olegunleko Ezekiel Gbenga) is a Nigerian man living in the slums of Ho Chi Minh City, an ex-football player whose contract was terminated following a leg injury. Without work and a family to support back home, we follow him through desolate climes along with four middle aged Vietnamese women until all five of them converge in a desolate, abandoned warehouse. Lying around naked, they prepare dinner, wash, and dry one another and watch television in an unwelcoming bunker. Massages and sexual intercourse, sparking small snippets of jealousy between the women, suggest this excursion has become a routine for this quintet, though how they know one another isn’t divulged.

Lê Bảo’s visuals recall a heyday of daring international auteurs, and his brazen eye is reminiscent of titans like Nagisa Oshima or Pier Paolo Pasolini. Visually and narratively, he resorts to the languid near-silent cinematic approaches of contemporary auteurs, and as such, feels like a closely related cousin of both Pedro Costa and Tsai Ming-liang.

Costa’s 1995 title Casa de Lava, a sort of reduced genre exercise, while Ming-liang’s various explorations of the body (Stray Dogs and Days certainly come to mind) drive home such comparisons. Taste is certainly ruminative, and we’re never entirely clear what statement is being made, especially concerning the four women, who aren’t differentiated. As the veritable stranger in a strange land, Bassley sticks out by default, but offhand comments about and tepid video messages with a son left behind in Nigeria are all we receive. Instead, we learn more about Bassley’s internalized feeling toward himself during an homage to the memories of his penis.

Filled with haunting visuals, such as a squirrely pig being weighed and washed and a hot air balloon being filled only to be eventually deflated (one of the women remarks none of her balloons ever make to flight), these are the textual visual metaphors for this house of pleasure, and the freedom of its participants only possible within its confines. It’s all rather abstract but beautiful to behold and is equally a calling card for the talented cinematographer Vinc Phuc Nguyen. Immerse yourself in its hedonism and you’ll find yourself enthralled by its quietly powerful imagery of humans seeking fulfillment in life’s simple pleasures, of which there’s really only ever a taste.

Reviewed on March 7th at the 2021 (virtual) Berlin International Film Festival – Encounters Program. 97 Mins.


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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