In the 1994 movie, The Scent of Green Papaya, a Vietnamese kitchen maid smiles as she savors the sight of a drop of milky sap on a leaf and later watches an ant moving a morsel of food. This kind of scene makes this film one of our favorites on the spiritual practice of attention. Now The Taste of Things is another. Both films were directed by Tran Anh Hung.

The new film takes place almost entirely in the kitchen of a French chateau in the 1880s. During the first scene, nearly 40 minutes, Eugenie (Juliette Binoche) cooks an elaborate multicourse meal for chef Dodin (Benoit Magimel) and some of his friends. Very little is said between Eugenie and her kitchen helpers, Violette (Galatea Bellugi) and an aspiring cook teenage Pauline (Bonnie Chagneau-Ravoire). The attention is on the food. Cinematographer Jonathan Ricquebourg focuses on pots of steaming water, vegetables being chopped, meat seared in a large skillet, and the construction of a baked Alaska desert.

“Part of cooking is conception, visualization, dreaming, imagination, creativity. The other part is work: attention, care, skill, thoroughness, actually handling the stuff which is food. To wit, a story.”
— Edward Espe Brown in Tomato Blessings and Radish Teachings

Eugenie has worked for Dodin for 20 some years. A renowned gourmet of haute cuisine, he prepares the menus and devises the dishes, and she prepares them. Their partnership extends beyond the kitchen, and he would like to marry. But she prefers her independence. When it is obvious that she is ill, Dodin decides to cook for her. And once again, our attention is trained on what is involved in making an exceptional meal. Food is what defines this love story.

Juliette Bionoche as Eugenie and Benoit Magimel as Dodin

Perhaps because they sense change is coming, Eugenie and Dodin take Pauline under their wings and nurture her culinary instincts and talents. Dodin tests the girl by having her taste his broth and identify all the ingredients, including the spices. The moment shows us the intricacy of the cuisine and the awe these cooks bring to its preparation. We felt the same about the whole film.

The Taste of Things is France’s entry into for the Best International Feature Film in the 2023 Oscars.