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Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Why complicate things when they can be simple ? ~ Mar Vidal

This is a Festival preview of Tasting Menu (Menú degustació) (2013)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2014 (28 August to 7 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

19 August

This is a Festival preview of Tasting Menu (Menú degustació) (2013)

Chances to see during Cambridge Film Festival (#CamFF) 2014:

On Wednesday 3 September only at Festival Central (please see the note on screenings below) and for general admission only at 9.00 p.m. (Screen 2), because the screening at 11.00 a.m. (Screen 3) that day is a Big Scream screening*

Also screening (as are some other Festival films) at Abbeygate Cinema, 4 Hatter Street, Bury St Edmunds IP33 1NZ ( : Tuesday 2 September at 6.45 p.m.

A night of enchantment, misunderstanding, and phone-calls

Sommelier :
It’s slow in the mouth and offers serenity and peace. (Slight pause.) I hope it helps you to calm your mind, and to remember and enjoy a moment of beauty.

This description of a white wine, from Tasting Menu (Menú degustació) (2013), could – if shorter – almost serve as the tag-line for the film : what is any good film (or painting, play, piece of music), if not giving us the space to experience something ?

And what might Chakula be, a restaurant with just thirty covers, if not a microcosm of – or metaphor for – life ? (Just as, in its own way, the Mumbai of The Lunchbox (Dabba) (2013) also enchantingly showed how food, and how it is delivered, together have the power to forge new connections.)

Imagine the inviting – though sometimes flirtatiously fleeting – appearance of food and how it is keenly appreciated. Mix it with an ensemble cast that plays, say, the variety of characters in luxury accommodation who commit Murder on The Orient Express (1974) (although this is no murder mystery, it has secrets and intrigues), or who meet as Peter’s Friends (1992) (though no one is exactly Peter, telling them sombre news), and you have some of the principal elements of Tasting Menu’s recipe…

What the film’s atmosphere adds to this, not least in some of its incidental music (which complements the more extrovert opening, with The Divine Comedy playing Neil Hannon’s song ‘I Like’, one of two of their tracks used), is the sense that things are happening magically this night.

First Japanese guest :
It’s like a biscuit. A crunchy biscuit. (Pause.) It’s so delicate. Airy. It looks dense, but is light.

Second Japanese guest :
It reminds me of a summer evening. (Slight pause.)When the rain makes way for a little chill in the air.

A far cry, then, from a delicious breakfast simply comprising a plate of baked beans and, separately, some dried-out toast, such as is served to the somewhat enigmatic Countess just before her doctor – by telephone – approves her going to Chakula for the evening. Others will prove to have their own stories, which do not take the overt form of the jar of ashes that she takes with her, but their past is no less symbolically present as each course of the meal is served :

We do not engage with every guest, but each featured person brings his or her own ingredient to tasting the cuisine, in the form of his or her personality and experience. This individuality is reflected in the camera-work, as it revolves around the dining-area, the preparation-area and the kitchen, bringing out orchestral flavours and colours, and as changing perspectives open up on the setting, and the evening.

At the time of the credits, and in advance of their long-standing dinner reservation at Chakula, we heard failed communication between Marc (Jan Cornet) and Raquel (Claudia Bassols) – voicemails where the speaker improvises, guessing at the other’s meaning (and what the other is doing), both imagining the other being busy… As a couple, they centre our attention, with Marc doubting that Raquel will come – and stuffing his bow-tie into his pocket as she spots him.

Although predominantly light in spirit, with an opening scene during a chat-show, where chef Mar Vidal (Vicenta Ndongo) is introduced as one of three of the world’s top chefs and interviewed about the allure of the restaurant and its final meal, there are various reasons why one cannot merely equate Tasting Menu with having a ‘feel-good factor’. For there are darker, even threatening, tones sounded – with mounting hysteria about who the eccentric Walter Reilly (Stephen Rea), who is sparing with his words, might be, why Raquel’s editor Daniel (Timothy Gibbs) has come to the restaurant, and what might have become of the desserts. (Just momentarily, with that question, Mar’s response to what she hears evokes gourmet night in Torquay – during the employment of Barcelona’s most famous waiter…)

At this stage, Mar, as well as general manager Max Barney (Andrew Tarbet), is on edge for various reasons (partly do with the two competitive Japanese guests, and whether they (and the waiting-staff) can bear Mina’s (Marta Torné’s) unsoothing chatter). However, everything to do with the meal itself has been running to clockwork (apart from one party arriving late), and everyone has been aiming for the best night ever…

That said, at times it feels as if Oberon has sent Puck amongst the diners (in the form of one of the waiters), causing mischief with misunderstood glances and misdirected messages. The Countess (Fionnula Flanagan), too, mixes up the action, sometimes making overly much, in a would-be worldly way, of what she hears (though, then again, she may be prescient).

In pointed dialogue between Raquel and The Countess, at one point we hear the words Welcome to the human race !, and it is part of the feeling of awkwardness of people trying to feel who they are in relation to each other.

It can still be a splendid night, but not without some contributions from unexpected quarters, and also some upset and some realizations.

This is just one of six Catalan films (Camera Catalonia) that can be seen at Cambridge Film Festival 2014 (@camfilmfest / #CamFF) - Thursday 28 August to Sunday 7 September (both inclusive). Three others are reviewed here, and What is Catalan cinema ? is also about the Catalan strand at the Festivals in 2012 and 2013...

Note on screenings, etc. :

NB The allocation of films between the three screens at Festival Central can always change (as can, if one is coming from a distance for a specific film, the programme as a whole) : if the audience for a film scheduled for Screen 3 (the smallest screen, around half the capacity of the largest, Screen 1) proves greater than expected, it may end up being swapped, so there could be a change in the exact time of the screening, too

In the programme (for which that is a link to the where the PDF file can be downloaded - printed copies are available at Festival Central and all good local outlets), some slots are also marked 'TBC', and popular screenings may be repeated : announcements are on Cambridge Film Festival 2014's (@camfilmfest's) web-site (please see link, above), as they are of alterations to the programme or the allocation between screens


* The Arts Picturehouse's club exclusively for parents / carers accompanied by babies under one year old.

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

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