If you are a filmgoer of a certain age, you will recall a heady time at the cinema when miraculous dishes were conjured up by beautiful people, rich aromas positively wafting out of the screen and onto the rapt audience, whose juices overflowed at the sight and imagined taste of the delectable dishes on show.

We’re not talking any old dinner here; we’re talking the likes of Babette’s Feast or Big Night. Tran Anh Hung’s The Taste of Things is part of that delicious lineage: the period costumes, the painstakingly prepared food, the romance and the beauty are all present and correct. His film – and I mean no disrespect by this – sticks to a tried and tested formula, and whilst watching it, it makes us realise that we had been nostalgic for exactly this type of cinema for quite some time. 

The Taste of Things is set on the cusp of the twentieth century in a charming French country house owned by the acclaimed gourmet Dodin Bouffant (Benoît Magimel). When he invites an aristocrat to dinner, he decides to recreate his pot-au-feu (which is also the film’s original French title). Dodin’s cook is Eugénie (Juliette Binoche), and she prepares incredible spreads for Bouffant and his small coterie of pals. When invited to join the men – for they are all men at Dodin’s table – Eugénie declines, stating that she converses with them through her dishes. Eugénie has been Bouffant’s cook and lover for decades, yet she steadfastly refuses to marry him, enjoying their easy, uncomplicated setup and her own private, separate existence. But when Eugénie shows signs of a worrying illness, the couple’s life becomes a little less uncomplicated.

The Taste of Things (Pot au fue)

Hung shows the preparation process in kitchen, from picking the fruit and veg in the delightful kitchen garden to embellishing the dishes with their final garnishes. There is little drama, just two foodies going efficiently and brilliantly about their work. If you love food, you will love these scenes. The pair are aided in the kitchen by a young girl, Pauline (Bonnie Chagneau-Ravoire), whose exceptional palate is being cultivated by Dodin. Once Eugénie’s illness has manifested, Dodin turns his attention away from the pot-au-feu and towards creating a wonderful meal for his partner. As with the aforementioned films, food is a means of communicating love. And, wowzers, Dodin pulls out all the stops to create the perfect meal for his perfect woman.

Binoche and Magimel are wonderfully cast as the gourmand pair. They may no longer be in the prime of life, but they are both sexy, accomplished, satisfied and completely at ease with themselves and each other. The actors were a couple in real life two decades ago and share a daughter; this was the first time they have appeared on screen together since the split.

Hung has decided not to show any of the ugliness or hardship of life back then, nor does he dwell on Eugénie’s decline. Pretty much everything in this film is charming and lovely – the characters, the surroundings, the interiors, the food… every scene is like an Impressionist tableau vivant. But if Hung prefers to linger over the love and the loveliness, why not? This is no cinema verité. Hung indulges his audience with a feast that a curmudgeonly few might find a little hard to swallow. I, however, can’t wait for a second helping.