De Facto Wife Guy: Our Review of ‘The Taste of Things’

Posted in Theatrical by - February 16, 2024
De Facto Wife Guy: Our Review of ‘The Taste of Things’

If one asks a viewer what film or show they associate kitchens with, the first that comes to mind is The Bear. That show depicts kitchens as chaotic, the opposite of how Tran Anh Hung’s The Taste of Things depicts that room. Sometimes, the kitchen is off screen and instead we see the dining room. There, we see Dodin-Bouffant (Benoit Magimel), sharing stories about past generations of chefs. Those chefs did not have it easy, and in the film’s present year of 1899, neither does Eugenie (problematic fave Juliette Binoche), Dodin’s cook and lover.

Running a household in the French countryside, Dodin and Eugenie have a lot on their plate. Eugenie wants to train Pauline, a young maid who seems to have instincts on good flavours. Both also got a commission to prepare a festive multi course meal for a vaguely named Prince of Eurasia. They live on, taking on these new tasks while still entertaining their circle of friends (including Patrick D’Assumcao). But how long can they keep this up without establishing rules, rules they need because of Eugenie’s health?

This is a perfect film to watch during February, one of many options for Valentine’s programming. This subverts the “behind every great man” trope by showing that the woman feels the love back. Admittedly. The Taste of Things replaces one trope for another by making Dodin a wife guy. But I don’t have the heart in me to dislike the film with those grounds as it argues for its sympathetic protagonists. It also shows the gilded nature of this sumptuous world without insulting it.

Eugenie is Dodin’s sick girlfriend, a trope that would fit in within an Edgar Allan Poe piece. Again, I can’t hate on this just because of how Juliette Binoche commits to her role. She has at least four decades of great roles, showing us different versions of women, ideal or otherwise. Here, she depicts subtle versions of defiance, doing so without having to physically stand up to Dodin. Even a scene where she faints in her arms is so old school but viewers believe her doing it.

The Taste of Things, nonetheless, is still a film that has Dodin as its central figure. And it shows him as a representative both of cuisine and French culture, surrounding himself with like minds. This film probably has one of the meanest and thus funniest scenes depicing an ‘audition’. A replacement cook offers him and his apprentices a veal dish only for them to reject it. But even that scene doesn’t take away from its central atmosphere where someone’s loving memory prevails.

The Taste of Things, shortlisted at this year’s Academy Awards, is now available to watch in select Canadian theatres. I’m watching this right now while I’m hungry, which is a terrible idea.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watches movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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