“I do wonder sometimes if you are perpetuating an archetype of epicurean toxicity with all the this culinary hysteria.” That arch line of dialogue can, and perhaps should, act as a litmus test on where you might or might not find a way into Flux Gourmet. The film continues writer-director Peter Strickland’s plunge into esoteric subcultures and the wacky subversive workplaces they produce. Each of his films gets a bit more strange. I am not sure where he has to go after this one.
If you have been following along so far, Peter Strickland made serious cult-waves in 2012, with his second film, Berberian Sound Studio, which played fish out of water with a British sound editor who becomes trapped in the process of scoring a schlocky horror picture in Italy in the 1970s. Office deadpan, met smashing melons, diva behaviour, and lots of screaming into microphones, as the engineer goes slowly mad. This was followed up, in short order, with the lesbian psychosexual comedy of manners, The Duke of Burgundy — a film which also featured insect symposia interludes, replete with a vibrating cutaneous soundtrack, and a credit for the movies ‘perfume by.’ This was followed by the department store from hell of In Fabric, which unleashed possessed evening-frocks on unsuspecting single moms, and cross-dressing appliance repairmen.
To say that Flux Gourmet is his weirdest film yet, is somehow, still an understatement. It exists in a universe somewhere between Spinal Tap and Sweet Movie. (A sentence I never thought I would ever type!) Here, wealthy patrons of the arts give residency to ‘Sonic Caterer Collectives,’ musical and performance acts which explore the sociopolitical subtext of domestic kitchen labour, and the distorted noises of food preparation. A plot point of no small significance hinges on an analogue flanger module.
It is a lot.
Our ‘guide’ to this strange world is a schlubby, hack journalist, and balding everyman named Stones (Makis Papadimitriou). He is being paid by the organization to document the various unnamed bands chosen to do a residency . Stones suffers from serious gastrointestinal distress, farts and diarrhea, which admittedly is exceptionally poor timing, considering the subject matter he is covering.
Stones bears witness to pretentious artistic motivations, ego power-trips, and backstage sex orgies, as he undergoes a series of humiliating physical exams from the resident medical doctor (who also sees fit to mock his writer bona fides). Is Stones named after Rolling Stone magazine, or Kidney Stones, or both? Either way, things soon heat up with the band threatening to fly apart while thoroughly at war with their condescending host and residency bureaucrat — an unrecognizable Gwendoline Christie, sporting an ever escalating series of outfits, eye shadow and hats. Things culminate with Stones’ journalistic independence being both sidelined and undermined; his body being fully incorporated into the show via a series of unpleasantly intrusive medical procedures.
Strickland breaks the film down to three escalating chapters, with flamboyant titles, that (if you look closely) are also subtly labelled with the chemical formulas for Hemoglobin (those oxygen carrying red blood cells), Bile, and Scatole. The latter is the chemical responsible for both bad breath and fecal odour. If this all sounds like a cinematic strange brew, well, it is. Witchcraft imagery and spell casting (by dialogue and sound-scape) have always been part of the director’s process. There is a series of hilariously hypnotic, possibly passive aggressive, ritual shopping trips (of the mind!) that are a mandatory part of the residency. All of the director’s films have an element of this performative sorcery, often carried and magnified by the director’s regular actress. Romanian national treasure Fatma Mohamed, who has appeared in all of his films, exudes heightened Transylvanian vibes. She has a real flair for Strickland’s fussy diction and off-kilter tone, that reminds me of the way Colin Farrell can channel the unconventional rhythm & vibe of Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster, The Killing of A Sacred Deer, Dogtooth). In fact, Flux Gourmet is even a “Greek Weird Wave” adjacent, as it also casts two actors who appear in that particular cinematic movement of the 2010s, Makis Papadimitriou (Chevalier, Suntan) as Stones, and put-upon band member Ariane Labed (Attenberg, The Lobster).
The whole package is a flavour palette of droll energy and satire. This will certainly not be for everyone. One should work their way to up this strange feast by proceeding in the order of release of the auteur’s previous work. Stay weird, Mr. Strickland. Stay weird.