La passion de Dodin Bouffant, review of the film with Juliette Binoche – Cannes 76
Much awaited by the French public, who did not see Juliette Binoche and Benoît Magimel together since the time of Children of the century (when their relationship began, which ended in 2003), risks an unjust silence that The passion of Dodin Bouffant which marks another of this one’s great returns Cannes Film Festival 2023. More than five years after the last one Eternity and over ten from the previous one Norwegian WoodIndeed, it is a pleasure to register the presence of the trton Anh Hùng Of The scent of green papayawinner of the 1995 Golden Lion with cyclo. Moreover, in a film in which the kitchen is king, more than the pair of protagonists.
In the kitchen with Juliette and Benoît
France, 1885, the famous gastronome Dodin Bouffant spends his days cooking, studying menus and sharing his passion with a small circle of friends, the few able to understand him and fully appreciate his art. To help him, for twenty years, the talented Eugénie, a cook able to transform the creations of her genius and true soul of the house into perfect preparations, of which she keeps the garden in order and manages the kitchen. A fundamental role, which women fulfill with passion and which makes them indispensable to gourmets, with whom professional and personal relationships have been mixed over the years, to the point of giving birth to a feeling of mutual admiration. However, Eugénie is not sure whether to tie herself to Dodin, who at a particular moment in their lives proves to be ready to put himself at her service and cook for her.
The Pot au Feu, a boiled meat from another era
There are few films that begin with a close-up of a celeriac, but perhaps the originality of this welcome return by the director of the Vietnamese Trilogy lies entirely in this incipit. In which the style of the former Chocolat pastry chef is immediately striking, here in a peasant version, very elegant with her straw hat cocked. A grace that her Eugénie puts into everything she does, even while dancing between pots and fires in the exercise of her duties, as we see in the very long scene – almost half an hour – which introduces the story and her relationship with the created character by the Swiss writer Marcel Rouff in the 1920 novel “La vie et la Passion de Dodin-Bouffant, Gourmet (The Passionate Epicure)” and inspired by the figure of the French Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin.
An affected elegance, perhaps, but certainly consistent with the context in which we move (not only due to the choice of a castle in Anjou as the main location) and in which all the protagonists live, very far from us and from our own daily life for this their belonging to a sort of gourmet caste than to a costume film set at the end of the 19th century. On the other hand, it is difficult to participate emotionally in the story, largely concentrated on the splendid and fascinating culinary preparations that we see filmed with attention, rhythm and taste for detail. Perhaps even too much, given that in some cases the verisimilitude gives way to the pleasure of artistic composition with rather unjustified still lifes (of spared lettuce or meat at the mercy of insects and bad weather) against the background of the action we see unfolding.
Michelin star recipes and images
But they are details, in fact, and secondary. Which enrich the many sequences in which the movement dominates the dialogue, and dishes, recipes, cooking times, platings and the wonderful colors of these real culinary frescoes (also made thanks to the advice of the chef Pierre Gagnaire, 14 Michelin stars) at least until a new element intervenes to change the relationship between the two chefs and the direction of the film. Which from the love for food – absolutely never abandoned, also because it is instrumental at this second level – goes on to represent the very special feeling that binds Dodin and Eugénie. Apparently there are two passions of the so-called “Napoleon of gastronomy“, which the director had been waiting to tell since at least 2017.
A very broad time that somehow corresponds to the ‘slow cooking’ of the viewer, enveloped in the warm colors of the photography of Jonathan Ricquebourg, interrupted only by the alternation of dark and light captionically used to represent the moods of the landlord. The Pot au feu itself (from the international title of the film), on the other hand, is a typical farmer’s boiled meat from northern France in which beef and vegetables are cooked at a low temperature for hours, emblematic of the value that the director gives to memory, roots and seasons of life above all. Touching, important themes that only act as a corollary to a long carnival ‘for foodies’ and to the dramatic rather than romantic digression, which also leaves little room for an irony that can only be perceived in some of the woman’s jokes. A figure that is too subordinate, if observed with a more modern sensibility and respectful of spaces and rights, and who does not seem able to convey the importance originally given to him in this celebration of eating and living well.