Menus Plaisirs – Les Troisgros

Menus Plaisirs – Les Troisgros ★★★★

ZFF 2023 #27

I shouldn't be surprised anymore that Wiseman has that effect, but when a four-hour movie's end credits prompt me to think, "Already?", it must have done a lot of things right.

Maybe not as encompassing a work as Ex Libris or City Hall, possibly as a result of certain guarantees having to be made to the family businesses in the spotlight – hence no budget meetings and no deep explorations of internal class politics – but Wiseman more than makes up for it for keeping the indelible scenes coming at a steady pace: Michel Troisgros using the Escoffier and Larousse tomes for walking a kitchen worker through the proper protocol of preparing brains; the maître d' who keeps forgetting what it is that pescetarians will and won't eat; the waitstaff's demonstrations of their subtle craft; the mesmerising sequences where we're just watching raw materials become food, then art, then consumer products.

In fact, you could feasibly read Menus-Plaisirs as a commentary on the commercialisation of a basic human need and, by extension, on the marketing of art. For all the delectable coverage the Troisgros restaurants get, the absurdity of haute cuisine, its culture, its aura, its prices, is implied at every turn – so it needs to be wrapped in all kinds of extra layers: the cattleman waxes philosophical about the carbon-neutral harmony between him, his animals, and the land they all rely on in order to put a friendly face on the very prosaic process at the heart of his business – which is fattening up livestock and sending it to the highest-bidding eatery in town. Cheesemongers and sommeliers spin elaborate tales about provenance and vintage, even if most of their clients probably wouldn't know if they were lying to their faces. And Chef Troisgros floats from table to table and reminisces about Japanese necklaces, family legacies, and 86-year leases, so his loyal customers – and, although we never see a shred of money, Wiseman's edit will brook no misunderstanding, they are customers – can leave with the feeling of not just having eaten, but of having been offered an edifying human experience with the personal touch of an artist. The film is certainly sympathetic to this narrative, but just how much it actually buys into it remains an intriguingly open question for the full four hours. On that basis alone, it's worth revisiting.

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