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Director Christian Vincent serves Haute Cuisine, a film that would entice audiences who love the aroma of all things fresh, organic and truly French. Yet perhaps at the same time, some may end up with a slightly disgruntled stomach.
Based on a true story, a provincial chef Hortense Laborie (Catherine Frot) unexpectedly becomes the head chef of the private kitchen for no less than the President of the French Republic (Jean d’Ormesson). Despite the omnipresence of gold in the Élysée Palace, he longs for home-cooked meals and detests decorative roses on his plate. Through simple and authentic French dishes, Hortense wins him over without much effort, quickly forming an unlikely friendship with the head of state who has a secret passion for food.
Obnoxious alpha males rule kitchens in the palace but Nicolas (Arthur Dupont), a naïve yet charming pastry chef who is also Hortense’s sous chef, becomes her ally and apprentice. Madame Laborie’s no holds barred attitude when it comes to expressing her views and accomplishing tasks puts those machos to shame. The main character’s personality is much like a delectable lemon meringue tart – sweet and zesty, strong but soft.
Actors delivered well-executed performances but there isn’t much to work with – the storyline did not provide a chance for character development. Musical scores and soundtracks were rather forgettable yet eyes are kept affixed on the beauty of each scene. Vincent captured the elegance of French cuisine whilst contrasting the picturesque landscape of countryside France to the sheer magnificence of the Élysée Palace.
Characteristic of French films, few words are uttered but it doesn’t prevent viewers from laughing out loud courtesy of its sharp, witty dialogue. Haute Cuisine does not have a strong, dramatic climax seen in mainstream Hollywood movies; hence, Vincent clearly took a realist approach, focusing on simplicity and authenticity. At times, there was no clear-cut sense of direction and you can be left wondering where the film is going. The lack of direction rooting from realism can cause an air of malaise but simplicity – the very thing that alienates some, resonates with others.
If you want to experience a light, humorous film and have a taste of true blue French cinema then you’re in for a treat on this one – but if not, spoil yourself with a heavenly French macaroon instead.