A Chef in Love
1996, PG-13, 95 min. Directed by Nana Djordadze. Starring Pierre Richard, Micheline Presle, Nino Kirtadze, Teimour Kahmhadze, Jean-Yves Gautier.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., June 6, 1997
A French-Georgian co-production with international assists from Germany, Belgium, and Ukraine, the much-lauded A Chef in Love is truly a labor d'amour, gastronomical and otherwise. Spanning the course of six decades, Djordadze's epic love note begins with the latter-day discovery of a cache of memoirs by French art dealer Anton Gogoladze (Gautier). The writings in question belong to one Pascal Ichac (Richard), a renowned gourmand and notable French chef possessed of an exquisitely keen sense of taste and smell. Ichac, who reached his peak while traveling in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi and went on to found a famous French restaurant -- the Eldorado -- before the Russian Revolution, was fond of Anton's mother, the Princess Cecilia Abachidze (Kirtadze), although Anton never really knew just how deep their relationship went. Djordadze ricochets through time, introducing the boisterous, silver-maned Ichac to his future love aboard a Georgian-bound steam engine, and from there to the gloriously romantic backwoods and flowing countrysides of pre-revolutionary Georgia. As its title plainly suggests, Djordadze's film is at its heart a love story, but the passion has as much to do with the epicurean delights of gourmet dining and the rapturous beauty of the Republic of Georgia as it does with traditional hearts and flowers. Djordadze crams her palette to bursting with images of the sun-struck hills and verdant forests of her native land, and her mouth-watering depictions of Ichac's ceremonial banquets and masterfully prepared feasts (one scene has a young Winston Churchill dropping in for a bite) may put viewers in mind of such recent exercises in the cinema of foodstuffs as Big Night and Like Water for Chocolate; seeing A Chef in Love on an empty stomach is the least recommended course of action. It's not all truffles and cognac, though. As the revolution breaks across the land, Ichac and Cecilia find themselves mercilessly hounded by the newly minted military. Cecilia is forced to marry a smarmy former anarchist, while Ichac attempts to pass on his culinary expertise to the closest chef at hand -- a low-ranking Russian prole with little experience to speak of. The scenes of Ichac's lovely Eldorado overrun by the piggish soldiers are oddly reminiscent of Pasolini's Salo, and as Ichac's plight becomes all too apparent, further secrets are revealed while all around collapses. Though it crystallizes on a tragic note, A Chef in Love remains a breathlessly intoxicating ride: through history, lover's hearts, and other lustrous realms.