A Matter of Taste (Une Affaire De Gout)
1999, R, 90 min. Directed by Bernard Rapp. Starring Jean-Pierre Léaud, Charles Berling, Florence Thomassin, Jean-Pierre Lorit, Bernard Giraudeau.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Dec. 28, 2001
This French psychological drama opens many twisted avenues for discovery, yet by the time it concludes we're only twisting in the wind. The movie's unlikely setup is full of potential, but the story's evolution and conclusion taste like stale leftovers. Fine performances cleave A Matter of Taste to the memory more than any intrinsic plot developments or lingering afterthoughts. The story begins as French businessman Frédéric Delamont (a man of great wealth and taste, played by Giraudeau) befriends the young waiter Nicolas Rivière (Lorit). Not quite at the Howard Hughes-level of phobic aberrance, Frédéric nevertheless feels the need for a personal food taster. It's not that he fears poisoning really. He's seeking a gastronomic clone of himself, someone who can anticipate his every want and desire. Impressed by Nicolas' keen palate while enumerating the ingredients of an entrée, Frédéric offers the waiter a lucrative job working for him. At this point, things have only begun to get strange. Nicolas' lovely girlfriend (Thomassin), who knows only a fraction of what is going on but is deeply suspicious of the upper classes, encourages him to quit. But Frédéric and Nicolas grow more and more similar and begin subjecting each other to ever more curious tests and subterfuge. The challenges steadily escalate, while the differentiation between the two men becomes more and more obscure until their actions come to resemble the dramatic postures of tangled lovers. A Matter of Taste makes perfectly clear that shenanigans such as these have unhealthy consequences. Yet it's the movie's psychological underpinnings that seem particularly off. Too little is seen of the gratifications of the men's arrangement, the cat-and-mouse mind (and stomach) games they play. The movie's resolution seems arbitrary and leaves an unsettled taste.