The Taste of Things (‘La Passion de Dodin Bouffant’)

DRAMA; 2hr 25min (French with subtitles)

STARRING: Juliette Binoche, Benoît Magimel, Galatea Bellugi, Bonnie Chagneau-Ravoire

Kitchen alchemy: Binoche and Magimel

As country estate cook Eugénie (Binoche), doyenne of a gorgeously appointed kitchen in a summery 1889, Juliette Binoche (The English Patient, Chocolat ) moves through the ritual of garden to plate with queenly assurance. And oh my four stars, the food. From veggie basket to lavish table, every ingredient takes a starry turn.


What the kitchen brigade (Binoche, Magimel as man of the manor, Dodin, Bellugi as his and Eugénie’s right-hand, Violette, and Chagneau-Ravoire as Violette’s precocious niece, Pauline) lacks in manpower, they make up for — and how — with expertise. As they pour their hearts into that evening’s feast, what little talk exists is of dining at a level most mere humans will never experience: from consommé to baked Alaska, their banquet for Dodin and his inner circle of fellow foodies is a symphony in perfection. 


Sublime recipes should never be rushed and writer-director Tràn Anh Hùng (The Scent of Green Papaya) lingers over every glowy slice and bite. Meanwhile, as the pre-feminist trailblazer she is, Eugénie is serenely in control of both her stove and her simmering relationship with Dodin. It’s at her insistence that the lovers keep separate bedrooms (“May I knock at your door tonight?” he chastely enquires over post-feast liqueurs). In the 20-plus years of her cooking for and with him, nothing has ruffled this fabulous femme — not even her recent, patently failing health.


Based in part on Marcel Rouff’s 1924 novel The Passionate Epicure, Hùng’s fine romance comes with the throwaway side dish of a Eurasian prince with attitude (Mhamed Arezki). But its meat and drink are the shared appetites that keep Eugénie and Dodin on their toes — in their kitchen, at their table and with each other, no matter what.