Monday, October 7, 2013

Haute Cuisine (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Haute Cuisine

Director Christian Vincent offers a satisfying and engaging repast in "Haute Cuisine" a character study of Daniele Delpeuche and her occupation as a private chef for Francois Mitterrand. The film has a light and buoyant sweep and you will be carried away quickly by the movement of plates.

The film stars Catherine Frot in the Delpeuche role and she singlehandedly carries it with resolute conviction as easily as an entree of twelve filet de boeuf en croute stacked end to end. In the film, the chef Hortense Laborie is depicted as an Antarctic adventurer,  jaded and bereft by the politics of cooking and forced by her caramelized compassion to seek wild outposts.

As in Stephen Frears' "The Queen" the narrative shifts through flashback  and right from the start, we know what kind of person Laborie is: strong, direct, with a spiritual nexus for the richness of haute cuisine. She wears a string of pearls like argentine peppercorns. Her nemesis is the supercilious and gloomy pastry chef (Brice Fournier).

There is drama here: Hortense must contend with palace kitchen gossip that she is Mitterrand's favorite and mistress, while striving to beguile The President's tongue in an effort to recapture salivary things past, the burnt umber terrestrial heavens of a truffle or the pale placidity of a cuttlefish spooned by grandma.

The French academic and novelist Jean d'Ormesson co-stars in a surprising turn as Mitterrand and he beautifully captures the child within the curtained charade of politics as he lusts for truffles with a heartbreaking mania akin to Salvador Dali.

Each featured dish comes out bursting, bubbling and boiling, invariably oozing, complete with ribbons of cocoa. And let us not forget slabs of beef, thick, pink and steamy in corsets of puff pastry as impenetrable and secure as baked armoires. This is satisfying on the level of food porn alone.

 Catherine Frot is all absorbing in her performance. Laborie lives for entrees. There is a trifle of existentialism as well: deep in the barren Antarctica she is hounded by filmmakers that pursue her like bothersome gnomes.

By the film's end, the trimming of rich sauces and fat become a melancholic symbol of European  economic austerity and innocence lost.

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