Viewers may emerge from “The Taste of Things” desperate to find a restaurant that serves a good vol-au-vent, a turbot in hollandaise sauce or the meringue-coated ice cream confection known as baked alaska. But while the film, set in France at the end of the 19th century, features period-appropriate cuisine designed by the celebrated chef Pierre Gagnaire, the secret to what makes it so enticing isn’t the menu. It’s the gestures.
“Something that is very important for me, from my childhood, is that I like watching people working with their hands,” said Tran Anh Hung, who received the best-director prize for the movie at the Cannes Film Festival in May. He remembered that as a boy in Vietnam — he has lived in France since 1975 — he would spend the whole day watching someone craft a door. He brought that interest in handiwork to “The Taste of Things,” which opens in New York on Friday.
The drama centers on the relationship between an epicure, Dodin Bouffant (Benoît Magimel), and his longtime cook and lover, Eugénie (Juliette Binoche). Their romance is in some ways expressed more through cooking and eating than through words, which is one reason that accentuating the sensuality of the food was important for Tran.
But keeping the mechanics of cooking in sync with the apparatus of filmmaking is not easy, as Tran and past makers of foodie cinema have discovered. In “The Taste of Things,” there were no cooking doubles for the stars: Binoche and Magimel performed all the preparations that are shown onscreen themselves, Tran said.
Jonathan Ricquebourg, the film’s cinematographer, recalled seeing Gagnaire at work and understanding what he was in for. “I realized how fast the magic disappeared,” he said. “When you take out a meal from the oven, for instance, the meal is very nice for a bunch of seconds.” But that disappears, he added, “when the crust is opening, because there is a changing of temperature.”