July 24, 2014

Film Review: Le Chef Follows the Recipe

 

This director relies too much on Paris and not enough on story.

PHOTO COURTESY OF GAUMONT FILM CO.

Film Review: <i>Le Chef</i> Follows the Recipe

Jean Reno plays famous chef Alexandre Lagarde in Daniel Cohen's Le Chef.

A movie, like a meal, can be simple and satisfying; forgetting about the outside world if only for a moment.

Like the French haute-cuisine it profiles, Le Chef is loaded with fat and old-world technique. All is forgiven since empty calories are the life blood of puff pastries and cheat days.

Jacky (Michael Youn) is an amateur chef with Michelin Star talent who can’t seem to get his break. Alexandre Lagarde (Jean Reno) is an Emeril Lagasse-esque chef who is long on reputation and even longer on laurels. Desperate to save his restaurant’s Three Star status and his job, Lagarde and Jacky join forces to show that cooking comes from the heart and not from trends. Writer/director Daniel Cohen doesn’t clutter up the plot with subtext because he doesn’t trust the audience to understand the complexities of a buddy chef movie or that the film’s sweet simplicity will shine through.

Cohen gets close. This film wasn’t made for thinking but Le Chef plays homage to a fault. Frank Capra was better at doing Capra than Cohen is. Jacky and Lagarde are fun characters but the happy ending is inevitable; otherwise, the film wouldn’t make sense. At least Capra took me to Pottersville before giving me the giant happy ending. Cohen goes straight for dessert and is left with nowhere to go.

When a great debate in the middle of the film emerges between Lagarde and a rival chef about classic French technique vs. molecular gastronomy, Cohen avoids hammering on the obvious metaphor (good) by crapping the bed with cringing stereotypes (not so good). As a director, Cohen has a defter touch. Allowing Paris to become an integral character to the film is his smartest decision. For all the troubles with the script, the scenery and the cuisine and the idea of food as art keeps the viewer invested. Technically, the film is solid. Cinematographer Robert Fraisse captures the essence of the city and the Rene Clair gimmicks are what homage is supposed to be.

There is nothing wrong with light and fluffy but there’s a nag that lingers at what could’ve been. The final scene ends with two chefs arguing over technique and flavor in front of the Eiffel Tower. It sums up everything that the film and characters are about. It’s just a shame that we had to wait that long.

Le Chef is a puff pastry, but who the hell doesn’t like a puff pastry?