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Hortense Laborie is a celebrated chef living in the Perigord region. To her great surprise, the President of the Republic appoints her as his personal cook. She accepts reluctantly but once she has accepted her nomination, Hortense works her heart and soul to produce both a stylish and authentic cuisine. For a while, she manages to impose herself thanks to her sturdy character and despite the jealousies she arouses among the other chefs. For a while only, unfortunately for her and for... the President. Written by
No one is going to nominate this as one of the 10 greatest movies of x. There is nothing cutting edge here, etc.
It is, however, an interesting story well told and very well acted, especially by Catherine Frot, who seems to do everything well. I've seen it twice now, and never once looked at my watch. It really holds you.
In part, of course, it is because it presents what is now, at least in part, a dying part of traditional French culture: a respect for food in all its potential richness, and a willingness to spend the time necessary to make and appreciate it. The meals that Hortense prepares aren't frou-frou. They don't, as the president says at one point, have little sugar roses on them. It's not how clever it looks.
It's how interesting the mixture of tastes are, an attention to taste and the freshness of ingredients that is necessary for those tastes, that French tradition holds to have been the gift of every good grandmother - NOT of expensive Parisian restaurants.
This could be compared to the wonderful but very American movie *Ratatouille*. Near the end of that, the evil food critic Anton Ego goes into ecstasy over a portion of ratatouille because it evokes the ratatouille that his mother used to make. A pretty simple dish. Not, granted, mac and cheese, but still, not complicated.
The dishes Hortense makes for le président, which repeatedly evoke memories of childhood, are NOT simple. They require both a lot of time and a lot of technique/knowledge regarding their preparation. That French grandmother did not make them in 15 minutes, but rather several hours, or even days for the preparation. It is, in short, a different vision of how grandmother spent her time, one that in each case is, I suspect, filtered through the values of the respective cultures. (TIME and KNOWLEDGE make for good food, vs. love makes for good food.)
I don't know if this all comes through in English subtitles. My copy of the film has no subtitles. But it's definitely worth a viewing. It didn't make me hungry - I can't imagine having access to such meals here in the U.S. - but it did emphasize that, even for a bunch of young Frenchmen such as those at the French base in Antarctica, there is still a respect for time and skill in food preparation that is one of the distinguishing hallmarks of French culture.
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