Review: ‘The Taste of Things,’ starring Juliette Binoche and Benoît Magimel

February 10, 2024

by Carla Hay

Juliette Binoche and Benoît Magimel in “The Taste of Things” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“The Taste of Things”

Directed by Trân Anh Hùng

French with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in France, in 1889, the dramatic film “The Taste of Things” has an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A renowned chef and his longtime live-in cook are lovers, but she resists his attempts for them to have a more committed relationship.

Culture Audience: “The Taste of Things” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of stars Juliette Binoche and Benoît Magimel and movies about people who love to cook.

Juliette Binoche Benoît Magimel and Galatéa Bellugi in “The Taste of Things” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

The slow-paced drama “The Taste of Things” isn’t for everyone, but it’s a mature story of what can happen when a famous chef tries to get his longtime personal cook to marry him. There’s plenty to like in this movie for romance fans and cuisine enthusiasts. The movie spends almost much as much time detailing the preparation of food as it does on showing how these two people live and love together.

Written and directed by Trân Anh Hùng, “The Taste of Things” is based on Marcel Rouff’s 1924 novel “La Vie et la Passion de Dodin-Bouffant, Gourmet,” which is French for “The Life and the Passion of Dodin-Bouffant, Gourmet.” “The Taste of Things” had its world premiere at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, where Trân won the prize for Best Director. “The Tatse of Things” then made the rounds at several other film festivals in 2023, including the New York Film Festival, the BFI London Film Festival and AFI Fest. “The Taste of Things” was France’s official selection for the category of Best International Feature Film for the 2024 Academy Awards, but the movie didn’t get any Oscar nominations.

In “The Taste of Things” (which takes place in 1889, in France), Dodin Bouffant (played by Benoît Magimel) is a renowned chef and a middle-aged, never-married bachelor with no children. He has been in a sexual relationship with his live-in cook Eugénie Chatagne (played by Juliette Binoche), who is also middle-aged, never-married, and has no children. Eugénie has been Dodin’s live-in cook at his manor for the past 20 years.

Dodin and Eugénie love each other, but she doesn’t want to commit to marrying him. She tells Dodin that she’s happy with the way their relationship is. Eugénie has turned down Dodin’s marriage proposals multiple times.

Will persistent Dodin get Eugénie to change her mind? That’s the question that lingers for most of “The Taste of Things,” as the movie fills up its time with scenes of preparations and servings of elaborate multi-course meals. Dodin decides he’s going to cook for Eugénie as a way to show his love.

Dodin is also seen with a group of five affluent male friends in many social situations, including when he and these friends get invited to dine with the prince of Eurasia (played by Mhamed Arezki), who originally invited just Dodin, but Dodin insisted that his friends get invited too. Dodin’s five closest friends are Grimaud (played by Patrick d’Assumçao), Magot (played by Jan Hammenecker), Beaubois (played by Frédéric Fisbach), Augustin (played by Jean-Marc Roulot) and Rabaz (played by Emmanuel Salinger). Rabaz is the one who stands out the most because he is a compassionate and very busy doctor.

Eugénie has an assistant cook named Violette (played by Galatéa Bellugi), who’s in her 20s and is a very loyal employee. Near the beginning of the movie, Violette’s niece Pauline (played by Bonnie Chagneau-Ravoire), who’s about 11 or 12 years old, is at Dodin’s manor to visit and is introduced to Eugénie and Dodin. It isn’t long before Eugénie notices that Pauline is a prodigy in culinary arts, with extraordinary senses of taste and smell. Eugénie wants to formally teach Pauline how to be a chef but first must get permission from her parents.

“The Taste of Things” is not a movie that makes any grand or provocative statements about life. The story also holds very little surprises. A few scenes of Eugénie fainting and clutching her abdomen in pain are foreshadowings of what happens to her in the last third of the movie, which won’t be a shock to anyone who’s read “La Vie et la Passion de Dodin-Bouffant, Gourmet.”

The reliably engaging performances by Binoche and Magimel are worth watching in how they portray this bittersweet romance. Binoche and Magimel have easy chemistry with each other, since they were partners from 1998 to 2003 and have a daughter together named Hana, who was born in 1999. Magimel and Binoche also co-starred in the 1999 drama “Children of the Century.” The tone of “The Taste of Things” is quietly sensual, which is best appreciated by viewers who know that not all movies about romance have to be about messy breakups and predictable makeups.

IFC Films released “The Taste of Things” in select U.S. cinemas on February 9, 2024, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on February 14, 2024. The movie was released in France under the title “La Passion de Dodin Bouffant” on November 8, 2023. “The Taste of Things” will be released on digital and VOD on March 28, 2024.

Review: ‘Amanda’ (2023), starring Benedetta Porcaroli, Galatéa Bellugi, Michele Bravi, Monica Nappo, Margherita Maccapani Missoni and Giovanna Mezzogiorno

July 22, 2023

by Carla Hay

Benedetta Porcaroli in “Amanda” (Photo courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories)

“Amanda” (2023)

Directed by Carolina Cavalli

Italian with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in Italy, the comedy/drama film “Amanda” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: An aimless and affluent 25-year-old woman, who has trouble making friends, has an uneasy reunion with a reclusive woman who used to be her childhood pal. 

Culture Audience: “Amanda” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in female-centric movies exploring topics of mental illness and loneliness, with some satirical touches of comedy.

Galatéa Bellugi and Benedetta Porcaroli in “Amanda” (Photo courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories)

“Amanda” is a quirky dark comedy that isn’t going to appeal to the masses. However, it’s an interesting character study of how anti-social people try to make personal connections with each other when they are pressured into it. “Amanda” had its world premiere at the 2022 Venice International Film Festival and its North American premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.

Written and directed by Carolina Cavalli, “Amanda” (which takes place in an unnamed city in Italy) is Cavalli’s feature-film directorial debut. The movie sometimes gets bogged down in too much repetition. The title character of the film is Amanda (played by Benedetta Porcaroli), a 25-year-old spoiled and angry woman who doesn’t work and doesn’t go to school. Amanda comes from an affluent family who owns pharmacies. She was living in Paris for an unspecified period of time, but she has currently gone back to her hometown in Italy and is living with her parents.

The movie opens with a scene from Amanda’s childhood that is left purposely vague but then is explained much later in the story. The scene take place at the home of Amanda’s parents about 15 years earlier, when Amanda (played by Ariel Prinzis) was about 10 years old, and her sister Marina (played by Aurora Prinzis) was about 13 or 14 years old. Amanda and Marina are both sunning themselves out near the house’s swimming pool.

Amanda’s lounge chair is floating inside the pool, while Marina’s lounge chair is at the side. Suddenly, a splash is heard. The family’s maid/housekeeper Judy (played by Ana Cecilia Ponce) has just arrived in the pool area to serve some lemonade, when she drops the tray and shouts with a horrified expression on her face: “Amanda!” What happened that day has repercussions for years on how Amanda’s family treats her.

There are a few more flashbacks to Amanda’s childhood, but the rest of the movie takes place during Amanda’s current life. She is a restless, sulking, rude and arrogant person who goes through life insulting people and then complains to her family that she has a hard time making friends. Amanda finds out from middle-aged Judy that her mother Sofia (played by Monica Nappo) has told Judy to stop hanging out with Amanda in Judy’s spare time because Sofia wants Amanda to make friends of her own age.

Amanda blames her lack of social life on not having much to do in her hometown. Her main leisure activities (that she usually does alone) are going to a local arthouse cinema and going to raves. Even though Amanda sees other young people (usually men) going to the movies by themselves on Saturday nights, she looks down on them because, as she whines to Marina, “They are weird.”

How rude and volatile is Amanda? After Judy (who is kind and polite) tells Amanda that she can’t go with a rave with Amanda because Judy as to do some “bureaucratic errands,” this spiteful brat angrily confronts Judy in the kitchen. Amanda snarls, “Judy, staying with my family has turned you into a real asshole.” And then Amanda mutters underneath her breath about Judy, “Bourgeois bitch.” When Amanda loses her temper, she will sometimes throw things or push things off of a table.

In other words, Amanda is mostly a nightmare to be around, although she has moments where she’s capable of being a decent human being. It’s revealed in the movie that she’s had this difficult personality ever since she was a child. When viewers find out what happened in the swimming pool incident that’s hinted at in the opening scene, it starts to make a little more sense why her parents have given up on trying to give her disciplinary boundaries.

When Amanda is around her parents, they let her rant and act like an immature whiner, while Marina (played by Margherita Maccapani Missoni) is the only one in the family who will stand up to Amanda when Amanda is being obnoxious. The other members of Amanda’s family are her father Dario (played by Sergio Chiorino), Marina’s unnamed husband (played by David Bozzalla), Marina’s 8-year-old daughter Stella (played by Amelia Elisabetta Biuso) and Marina’s toddler son (played by Francesco Biuso), who doesn’t have a name in the movie. Viewers will notice that “Amanda” is a very female-centric movie, where the women do most of the talking, while the men are the supporting characters in every scene.

Amanda and Marina have a love/hate sisterly relationship. Marina thinks that Amanda is very selfish and unworthy of all the coddling that Amanda gets from her parents. Amanda thinks Marina is a nagging snob who acts superior because Marina seems to have the “perfect” life with her husband and children. After a while, it becomes very apparent that the clashes between Amanda and Marina have been going on for many years.

During a family dinner, the two sisters start sniping at each other. Marina says to Amanda after Amanda complains that it’s hard to make friends in the area: “Why don’t you go back to Paris? You said you’d come here to help with the pharmacies. You came in once to get a Chapstick. For free.”

An example of the movie’s offbeat comedy is in this dinner scene. Stella mentions that she recently broke up with a “boyfriend” (who is also 8) named Pavel, because they were going to two different summer camps. Amanda shrugs at this news and says it’s hard to be in long-distance relationships. Stella is a typical “precocious kid in an eccentric comedy” who says things that are overly mature for most kids her age.

Amanda has a weird obsession with getting a standing electrical fan, but she doesn’t want to pay for it in cash or with a debit or credit card. She wants to get this fan by using bonus points that she would accumulate by purchasing things at a local supermarket. The movie has some time-wasting scenes of Amanda pursuing this goal.

Sofia’s best friend is a single mother Viola (played by Giovanna Mezzogiorno), who knows how much of a loner Amanda is, so Viola suggests and then insists that Amanda meet Viola’s daughter Rebecca (played by Galatéa Bellugi), who is about the same age as Amanda. Rebecca, who is very reclusive and lives with Viola, has got some personality issues of her own. Rebecca says that she “hates people.” And there was a time when Rebecca didn’t come out of her room for a year.

Rebecca now leaves her room, but for years, Rebecca still hasn’t gone anywhere beyond her mother’s vast property. It’s mentioned at one point in the story that Rebecca doesn’t know who her father is, she doesn’t really want to know, and she likes to think that her father is dead. In other words, Rebecca and Amanda could be candidates for their community’s Angry Loner of the Year.

Amanda somewhat reluctantly goes to Viola’s house to meet Rebecca, because she admits to Viola: “It just so happens I’m looking for a best friend.” It should come as no surprise that the visit doesn’t go well at all. However, as already revealed in the “Amanda” trailer, Rebecca and Amanda eventually start hanging out with each other. It turns out that Amanda and Rebecca knew each other and were friends when they were underage children.

During this rekindled friendship, Amanda meets a guy (played by Michele Bravi) in his mid-to-late 20s, who’s loitering outside of a nightclub. It’s on the same night and around the same time and location that she makes the acquaintance of a woman in her late teens or early 20s named Matilde (played by Matilde Rabbotini), who asks Amanda to temporarily borrow Amanda’s phone after Matilde loses her own phone. Matilde is generically nice but hardly anything is revealed about her during the movie.

Amanda is attracted to this male stranger. The way she catches this guy’s attention is to stare at him. When he confronts her about her staring, she tells him that he looks like a drug dealer. There’s some back-and-forth-banter between them, as Matilde stands nearby and watches uncomfortably. Amanda asks him if he wants to get something to eat with her. He says yes, so they go to a nearby diner, with Matilda tagging along. The movie shows what happens to Amanda’s relationships with these two new acquaintances.

Meanwhile, Rebecca has a therapist named Ann (played by Giorgia Favoti), who makes frequent house visits. Amanda immediately dislikes Ann and isn’t afraid to express this animosity. Amanda tells Rebecca that Ann is “brainwashing” Rebecca. It’s obvious that Amanda is jealous about anyone getting close to Rebecca. Amanda shows some other indications that she’s got obsessive tendencies. However, don’t expect “Amanda” to turn into a crime thriller.

“Amanda” sort of wanders along by showing vignettes of Amanda’s life. Some of it is quite boring. But viewers might keep watching out of sheer curiosity to find out what is going to happen to Amanda. She’s not supposed to be a “likable” character, but Porcaroli’s capable performance as Amanda certainly makes this movie compelling enough to watch. Bellugi’s performance as Rebecca is adequate and has the most impact in the last third of he movie. “Amanda” also has some gorgeous cinematography from Lorenzo Levrini.

Is there a point to this movie? “Amanda” is writer/director Cavalli’s way of showing that people who seemingly should have very little problems can still be deeply unhappy if they aren’t happy with themselves. The movie has some obvious messages, without getting preachy, about how mental illness should not go untreated. Most of all, this unique independent film is a patchwork-styled story of what can happen when the people who say they don’t need others can turn out to be the people who need others the most.

Oscilloscope Laboratories released “Amanda” in select U.S. cinemas on July 7, 2023.

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