Reconciliation through Food and Crises
by Renuka Koilpillai
There are three sets of characters within Tasting Menu (dir. 2013 by Roger Gual) who are battling personal struggles, which lead them to the closing night of the world famous restaurant, Chakula. The first character is the chef of the restaurant, Mar Vidal who is at the top of her career but feels pressured to move on to a bigger venture. The second character is the Countess who has struggled to move on from her husband’s death. The final set of characters is Marc and Raquel who actually made the reservation at the restaurant when they were married but have since become divorced. By the end of the film each of these characters are able to settle their problems. The film portrays the message that in times of uncertainty and concern, food and crises can similarly reconcile conflict within and between people. This is done by exhibiting how food and crises can bond people over the realness of their experience. Additionally, they both force us to confront our problems and focus on what is right in front of us.
Although experiencing a meal and a crises are two very different situations they do share a common thread; they both evoke genuine responses from the people experiencing them, which in Tasting Menu helps alleviate each character’s problem. In one glimpse of the dinner (35:10), the camera tracks the food from the dish to the table capturing the diners response. The fluidity of the tracking shot makes the experience seem very natural. Additionally, the shot is accompanied with extradiegetic music that actually syncs up with the diegetic sounds of diners cutting into and eating their food. The synchronicity combined with the camera fluidity evokes a sense of sincere everyday behaviour, which minimizes the problems of the diners. The audience knows this, because the camera picks up on the expression of the diners, including Marc and Raquel who seem to be bonding over the excitement of the food. Similarly, the characters put their troubles aside to try and save the musicians lost at sea. Raquel and the Countess both exhibit this instinctual response to help. Their identical response leads to the Countess trusting Raquel and sharing her experience with her husband. In doing so, she finally discusses how hard it’s been without him (1:06:49).
The scenes leading up to the actual dinner scene show the audience that all three sets of characters are avoiding their problems or dwelling on the negative aspects of their situation, which both the food and the crisis of the lost boat force the characters to confront. One instance where we see food help alleviate a situation is when Marc and Raquel move outside to discuss their relationship. Up until this point, the two of them have been arguing about their relationship, but then a waitress brings out a dish of olive oil and potato with ham followed by Mar who states that “the emulsion [referring to the dish] only works when they are together” (50:29). At this point, Marc and Raquel are forced to look at their relationship from a new perspective, creating a turning point that helps resolve their dispute. Finally, in a TV interview Mar Vidal seems to dodge the question as to why she is closing down the restaurant. When the dessert sinks with the boat, Mar is forced to face her fear of serving food that is not a spectacular show. Although she initially panics, the situation forces her to return to her roots of cooking and she concocts a dish out of simple sea water. This reminds Mar, that she doesn’t need an extravagant display to create great food.
By the end of the night, each set of characters has come to terms with their problems. Mar Vidal no longer feels the need to go to Japan to start a new restaurant, the Countess accepts the death of her husband, and Marc and Raquel end up rekindling their romance. By evoking a raw response and by forcing the characters to confront their problems, food and the lost boat crises help to resolve the many conflicts in that a way that mirror each other.
Tasting Menu. Dir. Roger Gual. Perf. Jan Cornet, Claudia Bassols, Vincenta N’Dongo, Andrew Tarbet, Fionnula Flanagan. Magnolia Pictures, 2013. DVD.