One Indelible Scene: A Lovingly Prepared Meal in ‘The Taste of Things’

How a movie announces itself to you is everything, and “The Taste of Things” begins in a kitchen.

Well, a kitchen garden. It’s dawn, and someone is crouching near the rows, cutting heads of lettuce, pulling up a few carrots, unearthing a white knobby thing and bringing it all indoors. The light is coolly blue-tinged. The day is just getting started.

I think it’s fair to group the garden with the kitchen. A garden doesn’t spring up overnight. Seeds are planted in the spring, sometimes before, and the gardener can’t control the results. If all of the elements cooperate — sun, shade, water, soil nutrients, shifts in climate and weather — then you get a head of lettuce, some carrots, some herbs, a perfectly pink radish. The same combination of skill and luck gets a cow to produce milk, a chicken to grow fat and tender, a cheese to ripen properly. Expertise, patience, attention and care, renewed every season.

Those same ingredients govern the kitchen itself, and that’s where this opening scene continues, ushering us into the world we’re about to inhabit, tummies growling. “The Taste of Things,” written and directed by Tran Anh Hung (based on a 1924 French novel but set in 1889), is one of those instant gastronomical classics designed to be savored over and over, like “Babette’s Feast,” “Big Night” or “Tampopo.” As in all great food movies — and shows, too, like “The Bear” — the food is both the point and not the point at all. A great feast says something about the world and everything in it. In the case of “The Taste of Things,” a meal is about time, and longing, and seasons.

All of which is evident in this first extended scene, which runs about a half-hour. The day has barely begun, and a fish is gutted, its innards dropped into a pan to fry. The kitchen is warm and convivial. Two people weave around one another as if in a pas de deux: a man and a woman whose ease instantly indicates a long, trusting relationship. Meanwhile, eggs cook. Vegetables are chopped. A younger woman helps, following their gentle orders. She’s brought a girl with her, maybe 11 years old.

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