Streaming: The Taste of Things and the best films about food

Estimated read time 5 min read

The term “gastroporn” got thrown around a lot when The Taste of Things was in cinemas recently, but I’m not sure it’s quite right for Tran Anh Hung’s sumptuous culinary romance, seductive as all the cookery on display is. Though it has many a languid, exquisitely lit pan over the finished dishes created by Benoît Magimel’s 19th-century gourmet – including a giant, glistening vol-au-vent that I’ve been thinking about for months – it’s less about money shots than it is about foodie foreplay. The film’s greatest pleasures are in its extended sequences of preparation and process; the silently, adoringly intuitive collaboration between Magimel and Juliette Binoche’s fellow cook; the thrill of watching experts at work. OK, and there’s a near-seamless match-cut from a perfectly poached pear to Binoche reclining in the nude: not so much gastroporn as gastroerotica.

Either way, Tran’s film joins the pantheon of cinema’s great films about food, its craft and consumption, and the human relationships it helps along. The club includes Babette’s Feast, Gabriel Axel’s lovely, 1987 Oscar-winning Isak Dinesen adaptation about a French cook bringing, after years of bland compliance with the local diet, her most sensuous culinary skills to the austere-living 19th-century Protestant residents of a remote Danish island. And Like Water for Chocolate (Apple TV+), the Mexican magical-realist 90s favourite that makes most literal connections between its lovelorn protagonist’s emotions and the meals she prepares. The film seems a touch twee these days, but the food still hits. Ang Lee’s Eat Drink Man Woman (currently hard to stream, but available for those with access to Kanopy) stands as one of the great portrayals of mealtimes as a family-binding force – it’s moving and funny, but its Sunday banquets are pure sensory spectacle.

Outdoing even Lee’s film on the noodle front is Juzo Itami’s utterly wild Tampopo (Internet Archive), the so-called “ramen western” that builds a manic, genre-fusing farce in thrall to the Japanese dining staple, complete with an egg yolk-assisted sex scene that really has to be seen to be believed. Japanese food artistry gets a more disciplined celebration in the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a portrait of an octogenarian sushi master that captures the almost religious rigour of his work.

Koji Yakusho and Fukumi Kuroda in Tampopo.View image in fullscreen

It’s a welcome, humane exception in the gastro-doc genre, recently dominated either by superficial, magazine-style grazing or hectoring food-industry exposés. Others include Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy, a wonderful, spiky encounter with a British-born doyenne of Mexican cuisine that smartly nods to the tension between cultural appropriation and appreciation in the kitchen, and Les Blank’s superbly titled 80s gem Garlic Is as Good as Ten Mothers, a good-humoured paean to the whiffy allium that even includes Werner Herzog among its talking heads. Agnès Varda’s beloved The Gleaners and I may not be a food doc, exactly, but its nourishing study of those who forage what others throw away invites us to reconsider our own relationship to what we buy and what we eat.

Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy.View image in fullscreen

Garlic’s most famous film moment, however, came in Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas, sliced paper-thin with a razor blade by a discerning gangster while in prison – all the better to melt into the sauce – and doubtless an ingredient in the hearty pasta prepared by an elderly mob mama, played by Scorsese’s own mother. The Godfather, too, includes some useful tips for making the perfect Sunday spaghetti sauce, though Italian-American cuisine got its most dedicated valentine in Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci’s Big Night, an intimately observed comedy of two squabbling fraternal restaurateurs that at one point feasts on the preparation of the baked pasta dish timpano, but finally sees the two brothers making peace over a simple omelette.

Irrfan Khan in The Lunchbox (2013).View image in fullscreen

A table laden with north African comfort food is often the centre of the drama and dialogue in Abdellatif Kechiche’s wry, rambling family drama Couscous (BFI Player), which UK distributors wisely and more appetisingly renamed from its international title, The Secret of the Grain. In the little-seen but likably sentimental South African film Barakat, a fast-breaking curry-and-rice banquet is about the only hold a widow has over her tetchy, disparate adult sons. And in irresistible Indian crowdpleaser The Lunchbox, an accidental long-distance romance is conducted via the delivery of mouthwatering packed lunches – a more protracted means of culinary courtship than the sex-on-a-plate prawn dish with which a chef seduces Tilda Swinton in Luca Guadagnino’s lush I Am Love (BFI Player), but just as effective.

All titles widely available to rent or buy unless specified.

Also new on streaming

Fallen Leaves
Typically doleful Finnish auteur Aki Kaurismäki is on his most disarming form in this autumnal oddball romance between two dejected souls – one a sandblaster, the other a supermarket stacker – who meet at a karaoke bar in a modern-day Helsinki that nonetheless feels like Kaurismäki’s own twilight world.

Alma Pöysti and Jussi Vatanen in Fallen Leaves.View image in fullscreen

In a performance far richer and more affecting than the Tammy Faye Bakker impersonation that won her an Oscar, Jessica Chastain plays a brittle, trauma-burdened single mother befriending and ultimately falling for Peter Sarsgaard’s dementia-stricken loner, in a surprisingly gentle relationship drama from Mexican provocateur Michel Franco.

Long a fine observer of characters at once enabled and stymied by privilege, Sofia Coppola proves a perfect fit for the story of Priscilla Presley, deftly portrayed by Cailee Spaeny all the way from queasily groomed teen arm-candy to a woman reaching towards independence, with Jacob Elordi’s Elvis casting a long, unnerving shadow at all stages.


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