Review: ‘The Taste of Things’ is a delectable delight from Trần Anh Hùng

The Taste of Things (or La Passion de Dodin Bouffant) is a new French-language film by director Trần Anh Hùng and distributed by IFC Films in the US. France has submitted it for the best International Feature at the Academy Awards, and it recently made the Oscars shortlist. For myself, I love a great cooking show, like Masterchef or The Great British Baking Show, but it has to be about the cooking and culinary creations. When those shows go dramatic and focus on the people and not the food, like Hell’s Kitchen, I lose interest. Although watching Gordon Ramsey going off and chewing out someone is plenty amusing on occasion! 

Almost the entirety of this first act of The Taste of Things would be what some people consider “food porn.” We watch a couple in love with each other and passionate about food working in a kitchen in the early 1900s, from my best estimate. Juliette Binoche stars in the film (along with Benoît Magimel) and is truly magnificent. I’ve seen some great lead actress performances this year from Emma StoneNatalie Portman, and Lily Gladstone, but Binoche was my favorite of them all. 

There’s a reason why France chose this film over the exceptional Anatomy Of A Fall for its Oscars submission. With so many of the movies dropping lately being on the sadder side, the heartwarming love story at the center of The Taste of Things (although there is some sadness, too) is a nice change of pace. When this film becomes available to watch near you, go ahead and try a bite of The Taste Of Things.

The story of The Taste of Things

This review contains mild spoilers for The Taste of Things.

This delectable delight of a film starts with a shot of Eugénie (Juliette Binoche) in her garden. We begin with a close-up of her face, followed by a shot of her bent down picking vegetables. It appears to be the early morning. She pulls a carrot from the ground and, after scraping the dirt off and cleaning it, takes a bite with an audible crunching sound. Eugénie fills the vegetable basket she’s holding over her arm, adding a head of lettuce to the variety of other greens it contains before heading back inside. 

As we cut to the inside of the residence building, we watch Dodin Bouffant (Benoît Magimel), the head chef and grandmaster of the home, coming downstairs in his robe to prepare for the day. He inquires with one of the girls who works there about drawing a bath for him. In the kitchen, where we spend a good portion of our time, we begin getting our first shot compositions of the food. We see eggs boiling on the stove, then a camera pan-over shot of a table covered in beautiful vegetables. These food shots are just a taste, if you will. We get so many more shots of the food being prepared as the story continues. 

Delicious food is plentiful

We observe from outside a doorway as Dodin leans over the edge of his bath and moves his head up ever so slightly as if he’s gotten a whiff of a scent coming from downstairs. After a few more food shots, including crayfish being boiled and some large fish being placed in a pot, we watch Eugénie holding a frying pan containing what appears to be an egg soufflé. She serves it to Dodin. He immediately reaches his fork in and produces a bite.

The Taste of Things never reveals the nature of this very large home and estate, with its elaborate kitchen setup. It remains a mystery. Its true purpose, whether a culinary school, manor, or private residence, never is fully explained. Although that’s not the point. We spend most of our time in the open-air kitchen. The sun is shining in, and the birds are chirping, sometimes so loudly I wondered if the birds were actually inside the room with them. 

Eugénie and Dodin’s great love and connection

But we’re there to watch Eugénie and Dodin and two other younger girls who are assistants/apprentices of the culinary arts. They help and learn the techniques of this couple’s elevated cooking. Dodin is the homeowner. They are not married, but Eugénie lives there. She has her own room in a separate part of the residence. But these two have a connection, love, and bond that goes deeper than just their love and joy of food and cooking, and we’re just here to observe it all. And it all just makes you smile. 

Through almost the entirety of the first act, we’re allowed to revel in this pair’s relationship dynamics, their cooking, the food, and the atmosphere. It’s all just soothing to the soul. But upon entering the second act, the love story takes center stage. We begin to understand more of their history and why these two have not taken the vows for one another. But when Eugénie begins to experience some dizziness and even has some fainting spells, we know that something is brewing behind the scenes that may take the film in a direction that our hearts yearn for it not to go.

The Taste of Things is gorgeous

The Taste of Things is gorgeous. So many of the shot compositions are stunning. Not only of the food and its preparation but also of the two main protagonists and their time together. For example, the shots where sometimes they are outside in their garden and other times walking together in the surrounding fields. The camera work is amazing and has such a nice look to it, thanks in part to the work of cinematographer Jonathan Ricquebourg and editor Mario Battistel. But the look of The Taste Of Things is only one aspect that gives this film the tone that it’s able to capture. 

The sound design is immaculate. We listen to all the noises of the food being prepared along with the aforementioned sounds of nature outside, and a sort of peaceful, almost trance-like state is obtained through some of the first half of the film. It’s intoxicating. I attribute most of this rare feat to the direction of the film by the Vietnamese director Trần Anh Hùng, whose 1993 film The Scent Of Green Papaya was Oscar-nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. Hùng’s other films, Cyclo and Norwegian Wood among them, have also garnered nominations and prestigious awards.

The chemistry between Magimel and Binoche is notable

But the final piece of this dish of tranquility is found in the central performances of Magimel and Binoche, especially Binoche. The way she looks at the food, the way she looks at him, the gentle and serene way she speaks, I was utterly mesmerized by her every moment onscreen. And these two have such fantastic chemistry. If they ever made a TV show with just these two actors cooking together in this kitchen, I’d tune in every week just for the vibes they exude. Trust me when I say this movie, even with its lower points, makes joy fill my heart when I think of it. It is a cinematic experience to seek out when it becomes available to watch near you.

Final thoughts on The Taste of Things

While this film is in spoken French, most of what makes this film special is not in the dialogue. Critics and foodies especially, but general audiences too, will find delight in the film’s two stars, their love of and passion for their food and each other. These Things will be something you definitely enjoy The Taste Of.

How to watch The Taste of Things

The Taste of Things will screen in the US starting on February 9, 2024. The movie premiered at Cannes in May. It runs for 134 minutes and is in French with English subtitles. Trần Anh Hùng. both wrote and directed the film. Learn more about The Taste of Things by visiting the official website from IFC Films.

If you want more International Films, check out all of our International reviews and coverage.  Russell recently reviewed the Finnish film Fallen Leaves. 

If you just want more Awards Contenders, check out our Awards coverage, including a recent review of Maestro by Ben Miller.

And Ayla Ruby recently reviewed the Turkish language romance, Last Call for Istanbul. 

Have you watched the movie yet? What did you think? Does it remind you of any other films? Join the conversation by leaving a comment below or sharing your thoughts with us on X @MoviesWeTexted.