The Taste of Things (La passion de Dodin Bouffant) is the quintessential French film because it is about love and food.
For The Taste of Things, writer-director Anh Hung Tran, who was nominated for an Academy Award in 1994 for The Scent of Green Papaya, has adapted a1924 novel by Marcel Rouff. Rouff is better known for having co-authored the 28-volume La France gastronomique: Guide des merveilles culinaires et des bonnes auberges françaises (Gastronomic France: Guide to the Culinary Marvels and the Good Inns of France). Like Tran, co-star Juliette Binoche has a cinema-food background. Having won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1993 for her role in The English Patient, she received a Best Actress nomination in 2001 for Chocolat.
In The Taste of Things, which takes place in the Loire Valley in 1885, Binoche plays Eugénie, who has, for twenty years, been the personal cook for a famous restauranteur and chef, Dodin Bouffant (Benoît Magimel). The two are also lovers. The film opens with a long sequence in which Eugénie carefully prepares a complicated meal for Dodin and his closest friends, who are chatting about food in the next room. When they invite Eugénie to join them, she declines, saying that all she wishes to say to them, she communicates through the dishes she prepares.
Despite their independent natures, Dodin and Eugénie cannot live without each other. Their only conflict is that he wants to marry her, while she likes their relationship just as it is. Unfortunately, Eugénie keeps fainting, and it becomes clear that her health is declining. Finally, she agrees to the marriage. As her health continues to deteriorate, their roles reverse. Dodin, artist that he is, prepares a meal for Eugénie and then serves it to her and asks, “May I watch you eat?”
One delightful sub-plot develops when Dodin discovers that an 11-year-old farmer’s daughter, Pauline (Bonnie Chagneau-Ravoire), has an unusually sensitive sense of taste, so he and Eugénie take her on as an apprentice.
At the screening I attended, Binoche reminded the audience that she and Magimel, although long separated, had a daughter together. One of the reasons she agreed to act with him in The Taste of Things was to show their daughter that ex-lovers can still be friends. Later, I asked Brioche who got to eat the incredible dishes after each day’s filming was over. “Don’t worry,” she replied, “The entire crew got to enjoy the meals.” Hmmm. I could imagine crew members asking Tran if they could reshoot certain food scenes…tomorrow.
Cinematographer Jonathan Ricquebourg does an exquisite job of combining mouth-watering closeups of food preparation with outdoor shots of gardens and nature.
In the French trailer for The Taste of Things, prominent credit is given to “director of gastronomy” Pierre Gagnaire, a chef recognized in France not just by the elite types portrayed in the film, but by working class connoisseurs as well.