by Eric Besnard
French film, 1 h 52
What fly has stung Pierre Manceron, the cook of the Duke of Chamfort? At the end of the XVIIIe century, master chefs had to conform to the wishes of their lord and master, never deviating from the menu they were asked to prepare. What a fly stung Pierre Manceron that day, presenting an invention of his own that no one was asking him for. In the middle of the abundance of dishes, he slips his “delicious”, potato and truffle turnover, which amazes the guests. At first charmed, they swoon and keep describing their ecstatic sensations, encouraged by the amphitryon, before a clergyman decrees, with regard to the ingredients used, that this alleged treat is impious. With this opening scene, powerful and cruel, and this reversal, ritual of humiliation that condenses both the end of a decadent world and the underground rage of the people, Éric Besnard launches his film on solid rails.
Dropped by the Duke of Chamfort, Pierre Manceron takes his bundle and returns to the humility of his origins, in the former coaching inn of his deceased father, and no longer wants to hear about cooking. Until the day a woman arrives claiming that he teaches her the basics of her art. He receives her without courtesy. He has drawn a line on his past. But the stubbornness of the strange visitor will give way to his resistance and lead him to “invent” with her the first restaurant and, therefore, to lay the foundations of the French gastronomic meal, still in force today.
Éric Besnard takes liberties with history. The first restaurant was born in this pre-revolutionary period, when the nobles, feeling the bad wind, went abroad, dismissing their cooks who then had as a resource only to set up on their own. Not in the countryside, as in the film, but under the arcades of the Palais-Royal, in a much more licentious atmosphere than on the screen. Whatever, the essential is not there.
It is a revolution within the revolution. Until then, only the nobility had these kitchen artists, attached to their home, to “feed” their pageantry, to reinforce the appearance of their power. Meals, rather ostentatious banquets, became the scene of a ritual theater where people went in wigs, powdered, costumed with the panoply of their rank (nobleman, soldier, ecclesiastical, courtiers in gallant company). And in this summit of the inter-self, we competed with murderous words, expeditious judgments. And we engulfed the host of dishes while commenting on them, judgments suspended to the approval of the master of the house.
The great success of this film is due to the quality of its script, the care taken with the light, the attention to detail, the precision of the gestures, the chiseled dialogues and the impeccable interpretation of the actors (in particular Benjamin Lavernhe, in noble cynical, and Guillaume de Tonquédec, as a zealous steward). With his mute roundness and the subtlety of his playing, thrifty of its effects, Grégory Gadebois shines in Pierre Manceron, proud and bruised, rough and attentive. He unfolds when this woman played by Isabelle Carré manages to unlock him and give him a glimpse of the richness of her talent. Little by little, he awakens to what he carries within him, this sum of knowledge, ease of practice, intelligence of the hand, science of food, from their texture to their flavors, and the artisanal miracle of their transformation. , via firebending.
At his contact, surrounded by his son who urges him not to resign himself, and an old poacher who shakes him, Pierre Manceron is transformed. Become what you are, this complex, multifaceted woman seems to indicate to him, who has lived a lot and only gradually sheds her secrets. She too thirsts to avenge old wounds that join those of her host. From silences to glances, a couple of mixed interests are formed, affinities are revealed by small touches. Together they are changing the order of the world. The people, too, can have access to the “delicacies” of cooking and discover a world that was forbidden to them.
By installing his film, immersed in nature, over four seasons, Éric Besnard works on the chiaroscuro of a magnificent, sensual and romantic story, against a backdrop of class conflict. On the threshold of a general changeover.