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Review: ‘The Taste of Things’ explores the culinary world

By Jay Collura     2/27/24 10:46pm

Review: ★★★★

In recent years, food has become increasingly commodified and diminished, at least in on-screen depictions. The allure of perfectly curated dishes on TikTok and other social media apps has desensitized us to the simple pleasures of good food — when everything looks picture perfect, nothing feels particularly special. 

However, whenever I return home, there’s an immediate warmth present in the process of cooking and eating that can’t be found anywhere else. “The Taste of Things” is an ode to this warmth, nostalgia and the oft-overlooked language of cooking, as Trần Anh Hùng’s latest film envelopes the viewer in a stirring romance rife with the spice of life.

The film, set in 1889, follows the “Napoleon of Gastronomy” Dodin (Benoît Magimel) and his personal cook Eugénie (Juliette Binoche) as they work together in a manor on the French countryside. Together, the two prepare a variety of meals for a group of old-timey foodies and discuss both their life and work. As this slice of life unfolds, the relationship between Dodin and Eugénie is explored and the two reflect on the romance that has simmered between them since they met.

On paper, this premise sounds uneventful and intimidating, especially to those who dislike period dramas. The film escapes this worry by focusing on the cooking, presenting it in an invigorating, effortless manner. 

Each section of the film is defined by extended sequences of Dodin and Eugénie preparing, baking and serving a dazzling variety of dishes, and the audience follows the process every step of the way. The camera dances between different chefs doing their prep work, infusing the film with dynamism alien to your average Food Network TV show. 

Never does the viewer feel that what is being presented is in any way cheated. It feels like an authentic depiction of cooking, yet is simultaneously incredibly intentional in its presentation. This magic trick is completed as the audience is presented with the finished dishes alongside those eating them, creating mouth-watering payoffs that manage to play upon anticipation and excitement in a thriller-esque fashion.

If the film was just two hours of cooking, I would probably recommend it regardless, but what elevates “The Taste of Things” is the central romance between Dodin and Eugénie. 

While the audience is not taken through their lives, the chemistry and small moments between the two characters creates a strong implied history that the film draws upon. Magimel and Binoche perfectly depict a struggle between the professional and the personal, yet the film’s greatest strength is its understanding that the culinary arts are the oxymoronic melding of these. Without using any words, the two are able to communicate on a deeper level than most can with thousands.

This romance and dizzying display of cooking inspires a deep appreciation for the on-screen depiction of cooking, but also forces reflection in the viewer about how they have communicated through food. It creates a sentimental, but not overly sweet, emotional journey through the characters’ lives and your own, one that is engulfed in golden light and beautiful historically-accurate locations. 

The film drags before its final moments, as the energetic cooking sequences become less frequent, but the general concept of the film still resonates fully. By shortening the runtime, and perhaps by focusing more on certain moments than others, the film could have been fully sublime. Regardless, “The Taste of Things” takes many steps in the right direction and is worth watching, especially if you love food.


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