Wednesday, June 25, 2014

You've seen this movie before

Daniel Cohen's Le Chef, which opens at the Main Art Theatre Friday, is one of those films that you swear you’ve seen before. It has all the pat characters and plot. It’s a light comedy. There’s tension between the two protagonists who ally to thwart a dastardly opponent as obstacles get thrown in their way. In this case it’s two chefs – Jean Reno as famed Alexandre Lagarde and Michaël Youn as Jacky Bonnot (pictured) as an upstart and apostolic devotee of Lagarde’s traditional French “gastronomie” or haute cuisine. Jacky is such a purist he gets fired from restaurants for brazenly telling diners what to eat (“you almost hit a guy who put mustard on his sole,” one irate manager tells him). Until one day he hooks up with Alexandre, who must find an assistant after new corporate owner Stanislas Matter (Julien Boisselier) wants to convert his resto to nouveau or “molecular cuisine.” (You know, tiny morsels served with supposed finesse.) Stanislas wants to put Alexandre out to pasture and tries to influence a group of critics that the chef “hasn’t evolved.” To the rescue comes the lowly Jacky, who seems to know Alexandre’s recipes better than the old man and, in a pinch, throws together a “new menu” combining both traditional and new cuisines and that wows the critics. This movie is all very predictable, from Jacky’s lying to his pregnant girlfriend Beatrice (Raphaëlle Agogue) about his “apprenticeship” non-paying job – and she leaving him – to the villainous corporatist Matter. And the French public – surprise to North Americans who hold France as the pinnacle of gastronomic taste – comes in for a drubbing for loving the same bland “steak et frites” as we do. It’s all a rather shopworn plot. Instead I would have liked something more focussed on the two chefs themselves, rivals or not, working intricately to prepare some of the best food around. I think of movies like  Big Night (1996, Campbell Scott, Stanley Tucci) or even Joël Vanhoebrouck 2012’s Brasserie Romantique, which had more intimate settings and a focus on the subtle inner workings of the restaurant. Yes, Le Chef is about food, but food could have been substituted for any number of things over which good versus evil is played out on a wider scale. And there are the stereotypical characters: charming upstart, arrogant master, corrupt capitalist, and poor suffering though beautiful girlfriend. Even the score has the quirky comedic, uh, flavour, of which you’ve heard a hundred variations. This movie will go over well with a certain kind of audience member (fill in the blank) but don’t expect anything less conventional.

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