A Matter Of Taste Movie Review

A string of movies emerging from France, including With a Friend Like Harry, The School of Flesh, and The Taste of Others, represent the "new" type of French films that American distributors are looking for. Partially dark comedies, partially thrillers, they get packaged as contemporary French noir. They are also notorious for taking no risks and being barely skin deep with plot and character.

In A Matter of Taste, Frédéric Delamont (Bernard Giraudeau), an industrial tycoon apparently at a peak of his success, is obsessed with two things: food and himself. At a fancy restaurant, he meets a temporary waiter named Nicolas, an irreverent young man with the hands of a pianist and a charming, arrogant smile. To feed his self-indulgence, Frédéric hires Nicolas as a personal food taster. As we soon discover, he is plotting to get the waiter obsessed with the same culinary tastes Frédéric has, and, more importantly, to essentially make Nicolas a living replica of himself. Nicolas, played by Jean-Pierre Lorit, best known for his role as a young law student in Krzysztof Kieslowski's incredible Red, gives his character a touch of unruly enigma, but that is as far as he can go with the role.

Nicolas finds his new boss an exotic fellow: The businessman is obsessed with food and is phobic about everything he can't control. He leads an empty life, spending most of his time eating lush, exquisitely prepared culinary masterpieces and lamenting about his childhood -- perhaps real, but mostly likely invented -- but boring either way.

A Matter of Taste is about obsession and the many different forms it can take. However, in this film, the obsessed are far less interesting than their obsessions. One of the problems is that the magic chemistry that is supposed to draw the two men together and change them is painfully absent. Frederic and Nicolas don't have much to say to one another, and aside from their spare, monosyllabic dialogue, the film is full of homoerotic undertones and creepy suggestions that keep you only mildly interested in whether something will ever happen between the two.

The doppelganger motif doesn't work here --simply put, the story never creates the necessary level of suspense or substance. In addition, they are ill-chosen players for the thriller genre: Frédéric exhibits no more energy than the dead fish he is allergic to, and, as the story progresses, Nicolas's growing dependency syndrome becomes irksome (aside from being laughably predictable).

It's impossible to call this film seductive or dangerous, or even sensuous, with the exception of the food tasting scenes. The thematic components of the film -- the manipulator vs. the manipulated, rich vs. poor, victim vs. victimizer -- never develop into anything even remotely sociologically coherent. From the beginning, we know what has happened and who has done it, we are just not sure why. Is there a symbolic relationship that unites these two men? Platonic love? Sex? Money? Unfortunately, the answer doesn't matter when the characters are as vacuous as problems they represent.

Aka Une affaire de goût.

Tastes like chicken.

Comments

A Matter Of Taste Rating

" Weak "

Rating: PG-13, 1999

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