Thef Tran Anh Hung’s bright period romance The Taste of Things had it come out in 1985, it would have played for six straight months at your local arthouse cinema. Not that the film is a throwback; it’s just blissfully regenerative, a movie that gives you back something you didn’t realize you’d lost, a movie that might even make you forget what year you’re living in. His pleasures are quiet and deep.
Juliette Binoche and Benoît Magimel play Eugénie and Dodin, a husband and wife living in a French manor circa 1885. Dodin is a gourmet, a connoisseur of the subtle and myriad pleasures of food. Eugénie is Dodin’s cook, but she is much more than that: a partner in crime who knows how to bring Dodin’s epicurean visions to life, a companion who enjoys talking and laughing with him, and sometimes a lover – but only in the evening. SHE choose Other nights, her door is closed, an ending No. that Dodini both accepts and respects. The rhythm of their relationship is as pastoral and regular as the changing of the seasons.
It is food that binds them close. In the film’s extraordinary opening, Eugénie prepares a complex meal in the spacious but simply appointed kitchen of the manor house, assisted by the housekeeper Violette (Galatéa Bellugi), by Violette’s young niece Pauline (Bonnie Chagneau- Ravoire), a small-sized gourmand in training. , and from Dodin himself: he steps in to prepare one of the dishes, not in that annoying, self-congratulatory “Here, let me help you” way, but in a way that proves he’s completely mastered this task since start to finish. As sunlight and birdsong pour into the kitchen—creating this meal is a day’s work—Eugénie gently coats a flat royal turbot with milk, pulls a magnificent-looking rack of beef out of the oven not a second early and not a second too late, and lovingly toss a creamy seafood and vegetable stew into a hollowed out puff pastry.
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We shall see this meal served, of course, to Dodin and his four avid companions, good-humored and well-behaved men whose waistcoats barely close over their distended stomachs. But even though she is cooking for guests, there is no stress in Eugénie’s kitchen, no rush or rush, no frayed nerves or hot tempers; only when necessary does she give a word or two of instruction to her assistants. Elegant in her simple linen shirt, she glides through space in a well-choreographed ballet, never breaking a sweat. She’s been with Dodin for 20 years and it’s no wonder he’s mad at her.
But when he broaches the idea of marriage, at least the first time, she balks: she’s so comfortable in her own skin, as she is, that there’s something about her that resists the role of wife. In addition, she suffers from occasional dizziness, moments of disorientation and perhaps pain that she takes in stride – this is not a good sign. The Taste of Things is a love story between two people and the love of food, set in a time before a disgusting period edible— a word with a built-in sneer, a word that treats true appreciation for food as a kind of joke — became commonplace. But it’s also a film about grief, about how the things that connect us to the earth, most of all, food, can connect us to the people we love most, so we feel lost when they leave us.
Hung who may be best known for movies like cycloaddition (1995) and The aroma of green papaya (1993)—used a 1924 novel by Marcel Rouff, The Life and Passion of Dodin-Bouffant, Gourmet, as inspiration for his screenplay, and the story has a radical simplicity. It’s the perfect showcase for these two leads, who, incidentally, were once a couple themselves and have a child together. Binoche and Magimel play these two as mature people who know their own minds; their intimacy is the loving kind, stemming not from need but from mutual respect. They also happen to be remarkably convincing as actors: Binoche, now in her late fifties, is radiantly snowy; Magimel is casually regal, handsome as a worn leather jacket. This is a film about sensory pleasures – as the men swirl the wine in their glasses during their little dinner, you can almost smell the oak of the barrel it came from – and one of the greatest pleasures is looking at beautiful people. for two hours and some change.
The Taste of Things it’s also just gorgeous to look at. When cinematographer Jonathan Ricquebourg shows us a sun-drenched garden planted with rows of greenery, the feel of the soil between your toes is part of the imaginary sensation. As a stock purifies in a copper pot, steam swirls from the surface like an art nouveau dream. Light, inside and out, has a soft, Vermeer-like quality—if only you could bottle it up and pour a little on a gloomy day. Hung is helpless in establishing the most lush, romantic atmosphere possible: a shot of a glistening pear lying on a dessert plate gives way to a vision of Binoche’s naked figure, curved like a viola, seen tastefully from behind as she lies on her bed. , waiting for Dodin’s touch. It’s such a weird film that you can’t help but laugh – I saw the film for the first time with a mostly satisfied audience at Cannes and we all laughed like schoolboys at its audacity.
But then, why go to the cinema at all if not to enjoy their language? The things we call clichés are often just conventions. The Taste of Things was France’s submission to the Oscars for Best International Feature Film, and although it failed to earn a nomination, it may have an even more distinguished future ahead of it. This is love elixir in movie form, the kind of date movie that will work the same magic in 2025 as it did in 1985. It’s the spirit of our art past preserved forever, like a jar of antique French sunshine.