Friday, February 9, 2024

Weekend Screen Scene: The Taste of Things, Perfect Days

I watched the French film The Taste of Things on Thanksgiving morning. This was both a good and a bad thing. Good because it definitely made me hungry for the meal to come. Bad because nothing I was going to eat that day would ever taste as good as the food in this movie looks.

Juliette Binoche stars as Eugènie, a chef in 1885 rural France. She works with famed gourmand Dodin Bouffant (Benoît Magimel) and has for over 20 twenty years. The film opens with an extended and almost dialogue free sequence that watches them (and mainly her) preparing a feast, from picking the vegetables in the garden, to the chopping, stirring, cooking and baking required. By the end of this scene you'll be craving more than popcorn, as director Trần Anh Hùng photographs all of this food prep with a hungry and admiring eye.

Food in the film is many things. It's a tool for teaching. It's the center of gatherings and celebrations. And ultimately, it's an act of love. There's an  romance at the center of The Taste of Things, and how it plays out is much like a good meal, and life. A lot of prep, rapturous enjoyment, and it's all over way too quickly.

The days lived out in Perfect Days may not seem so perfect on the surface. Kōji Yakusho gives a calm and almost silent performance as Hirayama, a toilet cleaner in Tokyo. His daily life doesn't vary much. He wakes up, folds up his bed, tends to his plants, grabs a coffee from a vending machine, listens to his favorite music on cassettes on the drive to his job of cleaning a variety of public toilets in Tokyo. After work, he eats at the same food stall every night, and then reads before bed. Sometimes he'll grab a steam and a shower at a bath house. On weekends, he does laundry. But all through this he exhibits a genuine appreciation for his quiet life, and the simple pleasures and beauty around him.

And yes, on the surface this may sound exceedingly boring. But director Wim Wenders is no stranger to making the mundane and repetitive hypnotic and soothing. The calmness in Hirayama may remind you a bit of Harry Dean Stanton's Travis in Wenders's1984 film Paris, Texas. In both Travis and Hirayama, still waters run deep. There are hints of trauma and possible addiction in Hirayama's past, lending a possible explanation for his structured day-by-day life. The definition of a "perfect day" may be subjective. But when you realize that in an entire lifetime, the majority of your days are going to be filled with the mundane, it's a good idea to makes those days as perfect as possible.

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