Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Haute Cuisine: Mitterrand’s Private Chef
irony was hard to miss when France’s newly elected Socialist president hired a
private chef to preside over his freshly re-opened personal kitchen in the Élysée
Palace, unless you were either Mitterand or the new chef. Irony will have not have a place on the menu
for Hortense Laborie, but she will face plenty of turf fighting and bureaucratic
haggling in Christian Vincent’s Haute
opens this Friday in New York.
is rather stunned when she is recruited from relative obscurity to Périgord to
cook for the unnamed President transparently based on François Mitterrand. Initially, the presidential advisors, such as
her nominal supervisor David Azoulay, quite like having the classy Laborie
around the Palace. However, the “Big
Kitchen” bitterly resents her presence, especially since she receives all the
small prestigious assignments, leaving them with the high volume, mass produced
meals. Unfortunately, when a political
shake-up forces out Azoulay, he is replaced by a crass bean-counter. Concerned about the cost of the small kitchen
and the President’s rising cholesterol, he starts micro-managing Laborie’s
menus, which does not sit well with her.
Haute Cuisine is a pleasant
enough film, offering up plenty of savory looking regional French dishes. Food necessarily plays a central role in the
film, but there is a deceptive simplicity to many of Laborie’s meals that do
not lend themselves to the over-the-top cinematic treatment of other vicarious
on the real life Danièle Delpeuch, Catherine Frot portrays Laborie with
intelligence, elegance, and backbone.
She is clearly a force to be reckoned with. Although Jean d’Ormesson is a poor likeness
for Mitterrand, his President’s world weary graciousness works perfectly within
the film’s dramatic context. Yet, even though
the film employs Laborie’s year-long stint at an Antarctic research base
(again, true story) as an intriguing framing device, the overall arc of the
film is oddly flat. In fact, the big
turning point comes and goes before viewers even realize it.
Still, for Francophiles, Haute Cuisine delivers a potent shot of Frenchness. For those who enjoy the air of sophistication
more than the grubby business of plot points and conflicts, it is your best bet
this week. Earning a restrained
recommended more for connoisseurs of French culture rather than food movie
junkies, Haute Cuisine opens this
Friday (9/20) in New York at the Landmark Sunshine.
Labels: French Cinema