Vague Visages’ The Taste of Things review contains minor spoilers. Anh Hung Tran’s 2023 movie features Juliette Binoche, Benoît Magimel and Emmanuel Salinger. Check out the VV home page for more film reviews, along with cast/character summaries, streaming guides and complete soundtrack song listings.
Culturally, we are facing an absence of cinematically riveting onscreen musicals that wholeheartedly embody the featured songs and let the edits correspond with breaks. Great directors understand how to meticulously compose their actors, thus allowing the stories to flow with the performers’ bodies. Tran Anh Hung achieves this feat in The Taste of Things, successfully borrowing from the language of great musicals by using long, unbroken takes to draw out the painstaking rigors of cooking five-course meals. The camera circles each protagonist, swirling between characters as the filtered sunlight dances in between.
Adapted from Marcel Rouff’s1920 novel La Vie et la Passion de Dodin-Bouffant, gourmet, The Taste of Things is a swooning romance between Eugénie (Juliette Binoche) and Dodin (Benoît Magimel), two like-minded culinary masters. Their 20-year-long collaboration has bred the kind of earnest love and respect often deemed uncinematic. Many of Eugénie and Dodin’s scenes are spent silently navigating space, with their meal preparations playing out in real time. The shared passion of cooking is a wonderful apt analogy for the protagonists’ relationship — love that has been forged in the slow passage of the years, carved into a shape and form that both sustains and delights. Like love, cooking transforms the invisible passage of time into something real, weighted and nourishing, impacting Eugénie and Dodin in discernible ways while sitting upon their physicalities.
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Hung’s skill lies in composing shots that unfold with a painterly precision. His camera may rest on a wooden chopping board for several seconds before hands appear — chopping carrots, peeling back the paper-thin skin of an onion, halving a lemon. Much like a meal only makes sense once the ingredients have come together — simmering together for hours in a bronze pan — these shots only clarify once all the elements have come together.
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With no other plot points to grasp onto, The Taste of Things gently coils around these moments, like cylinders of steam aimlessly floating upwards. There are several instances where something is discussed with importance, treated as the major event that will redefine everything else. Instead, however, such moments dissolve under the weight of Eugénie and Dodin’s lovely chemistry. Ultimately, The Taste of Things primarily takes place in a kitchen, and Tran lends this space the appropriate gravitas. Every corner is hit by shifting light, bathed in a yellow glow.
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Set in 1885, The Taste of Things is bound by realistic gender politics. Rarely does Eugénie escape the warmth of domestic spaces, her brilliance consigned to largely unseen corners. Yet part of the film’s magic is how Binoche and Magimel’s chemistry is born from a shared intellectual curiosity, conveyed in the actors’ listening and adorned with unwavering stares and glittering smiles. There is no one better at channelling the multi-faceted force of joy than Binoche, whose entrancing performance grounds The Taste of Things in its gentle tragedy.
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A slightness of stakes obscures The Taste of Things’ operatic scale. Tran understands that real romance is built on the passing of time in one another’s company; he animates the moments that frequently fall between the gaps of big life events. As a result, The Taste of Things is a genuinely thrilling love story, served alongside the heartbreak of realizing that time has passed as one kneads their life into a new and unfamiliar shape.
Anna McKibbin (@annarosemary) is a freelance film critic. She received a journalism MA from City University and specializes in pop culture. Anna has written for London Film School, Film Cred and We Love Cinema.
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