I could review this film in one sentence and you would be armed with the knowledge on whether or not Haute Cuisine is your slice of cake…no, it’s not that the film is bad, its just a simple, brisk, low-investment drama with very little drama to speak of…look at it as the sort of film that’ll appeal to your inner little old lady that occasionally takes a trip to Cinema Nouveau with the gals, then goes home, drinks her prune juice and goes to sleep with a smile of satisfaction on her face and grim realisations of mortality on her mind.
The story of real-life chef Danièle Mazet-Delpeuch (renamed as Hortense Laborie) as she finds herself employed as the personal chef of the French President, her journey through the bureaucratic nature of the president’s administration, and her future as cook on a remote Antarctic island. On the island, she is questioned by an eager reporter on why she left the president’s kitchen and refuses and remains tight-lipped about the ordeal to everyone, and that is where this story is brought to light.
Fans of high society cooking, wannabe soux chefs, and your average foodie will indulge in this film. The focus is on the food and the drama typically plays second fiddle to the exquisite visuals of truffles and a bunch of delicacies whose pronunciations I would surely butcher. I said earlier, it’s a low-investment film and won’t be taxing on the mental faculties in any way whatsoever.
The Bottom Line
First thing you should know about this film is that it’s a French language film but it isn’t the Frenchiest of French films that you’ll come across – it has that roundabout charm that you would expect but that simply isn’t enough to separate it from the crowd. Another thing that you will notice is how brisk the pacing is, the odd thing is that while the editing is fast, the story is slow and there really isn’t much to it in terms of the biopic formula.
The real treat comes in the form of Catherine Frot (playing Hortense) whose frankness and charisma truly brings a touch of elegance to the rather barebones plot. She is the heart and soul of the entire production and single-handedly delivers the only reason to really watch Haute Cuisine. From her initial employment at the Élysée Palace to her humble position as an overqualified hostile cook, every scene is emotive and sumptuous. Another casting decision that is somewhat peculiar is Jean d’Ormesson as Le President. d’Ormesson at first seemed familiar but after quick internet search is revealed to be a wealthy French aristocrat with a penchant for writing; so how he ended up in this film is a complete mystery but he has a certain soft-spoken charm for his minor role.
Keep in mind that this story is based on a true story – how accurate a depiction is really anyone’s guess – so without revealing the reason for why Hortense left the employment of the French president, I will say that the ending was somewhat lacklustre and this is where fiction would have been more interesting than the truth. It feels a little petty and underwritten and speaks to the nature of the screenwriter because as I have stated in the past, the ending should be the cherry on the top of any tale and is usually one of the elements that will linger in the public mind. This isn’t a good one, and it leaves a bitter after-taste for audiences that engaged with the plot at large.
Haute Cuisine is the epitome of the lazy sunday afternoon trip to the cinema – it’s an experience that requires little from the audience and still manages to qualify as entertainment. It’s not awful, but at the same time it is truly a film that will disappear from theatres without a trace. That said, this is one of those Nouveau releases that will probably have an extended run as these sort of experiences seem to command it for a peculiar reason that I am not fully aware of.