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Tran Anh Hung La Passion de Dodin bouffant review


The Taste of Things | Review

The Taste of Things | Review

Where’s the Beef?: Tran Anh Hung Activates the Salivary Glands

Tran Anh Hung The Taste of Things ReviewGastronomy has never seemed so forlornly romantic as it is in Tran Anh Hung’s sumptuous foodie procedural, The Taste of Things (aka The Pot au Feu). The film’s French language title, La Passion de Dodin Bouffant, is a modified version of the 1924 Marcel Rouff novel from which the film is adapted, and ultimately a bit more fitting than the titular dish which plays a minor role amongst a variety of other lavish epicurean delights. Notably, the film unites Benoit Magimel and Juliette Binoche, who originally met on the set of 1999’s Children of the Century, which inspired a high profile romance, making their fateful relationship here all the more potently melancholic. Gentle and straightforward, this is a narrative about artistic process as much as it is consumption, its greatest action being the digestive mechanism it will inspire in your stomach.

On indefinite respite in his luxurious manor during the Belle Époque, noted French gourmand Dodin Bouffant (Magimel), who is referred to as ‘the Napoleon of Gastronomy,’ enjoys his days with his cook, Eugenie (Juliette Binoche). She prepares exquisite feasts for him and a handful of his associates, all who seemingly can afford the same amount of leisure. Around the same time they’re introduced to the preadolescent niece of an employee, Pauline (Bonnie Chagneau-Ravoire), who displays a talent for gastronomy, Dodin is invited to attend a meal with the Prince of Eurasia. As Eugenie attempts to court Pauline’s parents to make her a protege, Dodin fusses over a menu to impress the Prince, settling on a main course of pot au feu, which Eugenie worries might be a bit too underwhelming as a dish, if an audacious choice. Before a date can be set, Eugenie, who is also romantically involved with Dodin, is unable to hide health issues she’s experiencing.

In many ways, The Pot au Feu is a return to Tran Anh Hung’s roots, particularly his 1993 debut The Scent of the Green Papaya, which snatched the Camera d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. The time around, the director employs DP Jonathan Ricquebourg (The Death of Louis XIV, 2016), but there’s a similar sense of interior attention detail, highlighting a reserved opulence of a manor where nearly all the action takes place in the kitchen or the dining room. The opening sequence, wherein Eugenie almost single handedly prepares an impressive feast for Dodin and his quartet of gourmets (who all appear to be wealthy gone-to-seed types who love nothing more than to consume great food and good wine), takes its sweet time, and yet watching these dishes (and let’s not forget the Baked Alaska for dessert) come together is fascinating, presented without egregious musical manipulation, instead highlighting the passionate labor involved in the craft. It’s a long way off from another Binoche point of comparison, Lasse Hallstrom’s Chocolat (2000).

We’re clued in to an impending health crises for Eugenie early on (like a character Patricia Clarkson plays with the same name in Monica, she ironically doesn’t have good genes), which also explains why she finally relents to marrying Dodin after spending twenty years as his cook and sometimes lover. Of the many food prep sequences, the best transpires when Dodin concocts his own feast for Eugenie to make her feel better.

Basking in candlelight as she samples truffled chicken and drinks expensive champagne rescued from an old shipwreck, Binoche remains a swoon worthy screen presence. While some predictable happenings transpire, in the background remains the titular pot au feu, the main course Dodin plans to make for his receipcrated invitation for the Prince of Eurasia, who treated him to an eight-hour long meal earlier on in the film. While this doesn’t exactly generate any real suspense or tension, it presents an interesting tangent regarding classist attitudes towards food, or at least the meaning assigned to certain arrangements of ingredients. Following in the footsteps of Babette’s Feast (1987), The Pot au Feu is an exercise in culinary elegance.

Reviewed on May 24th at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival – Competition. 134 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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