Based on true events: Delicious FREEDOM GOES THROUGH THE STOMACH tells about the creation of the restaurants – and thus about the creation of an important piece of French identity. We’ll reveal how much it tastes good in our review.
OT: Délicieux (FR/BEL 2021)
The plot summary
France in the 18th century: The snobbish Duke of Chamfort (Benjamin Lavernhe) brags to other nobles and representatives of the church about his experienced cook Manceron (Grégory Gadebois). However, he does not stick to previous agreements and instead adds a new, small and fine delicacy to the royal meal. The fact that it contains ingredients such as potatoes and truffles causes scorn and ridicule from those present. In a rush of pride and self-esteem, Manceron refuses to apologize – and therefore has to leave the yard. Now he runs a farm that serves as a stopping point for travelers, where, as is customary, only sparse food is served. When the enigmatic, industrious Louise (Isabelle Carré) asks Manceron to apprentice with him, the two encourage each other to think bigger. The first restaurant is created…
In 2016, the French director and author Éric Besnard achieved a respectable success at the USA box office: his drama “Pear Cake with Lavender” attracted over 700,000 people to the local cinemas – thus surpassing, among other things, Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi stroke of genius “Arrival”, the zeitgeisty one Horror thriller “The Purge – Election Year” and Fede Alvarez’s “Don’t Breathe”. His next directorial work, the subtly weird comedy “My Witty Family” about a writer with writer’s block, was only released in home cinemas in this country. But just a few weeks after the DVD and Blu-ray premiere of Besnard’s film about writing, another project by the filmmaker is coming to United Kingdom – and this time the Frenchman is making the jump to the big screen again.
The stubborn master chef Manceron (Grégory Gadebois) presents the Duke with pies again.
What luck! Because Besnard’s “À la Carte!” – The way to freedom is through the stomach” is a delicious nod to one of the most important ingredients of the soul of France, which belongs in the cinema. What is meant is the French understanding of gastronomy: slowing down together in restaurants and (not only) sharing culinary experiences. This idea is so quintessentially French that the term “restaurant” is, well, a French word. But although everything that is associated with a relaxed, well-groomed visit to a good restaurant can no longer be imagined in the identity of our neighboring country, all of this is “only” a few centuries old. Because what we understand today as a restaurant was only developed over a 15-year period during the French Revolution. In collaboration with his writing partner Nicolas Boukhrief (“Assassin(s)”), Besnard condensed the “preparation” of the gastronomy that was formed, loved and lived in France, including the hospitality associated with gustatory pleasures, into a kind of feel-good almost fairy tale. Their story begins in 1789, when the scent of revolution was already in the air, but the urge to put an end to the mocking nobility could not yet be cut with a knife. From there it extends over a few months and condenses the many ideas into a small group working together, which were actually created by numerous people acting independently of one another. It is a condensation and shortening made with love, true to the cookbook that the protagonist of “À la Carte! – The way to freedom is through the stomach”.
Manceron is physically a bear of a man, but as his sorrowful face, his gentle facial expressions and the delicate, well-groomed skin on his trained hands reveal: he is more loving, more thoughtful and more sensitive – and therefore more vulnerable than his stature would suggest. The chef, embodied by Grégory Gadebois with equal parts pride, self-pity and socially trained deference to status, masters exactly what the Duke of Chamfort (“pear cake with lavender” mime Benjamin Lavernhe in a guest role) demands. So magnificently prepared, sumptuous dishes that follow the belief propagated by clergy: the closer to heaven an ingredient is found, the better – the closer to hell, the more disgusting. And the more distant the origin of a spice, the more it emphasizes the status of the host. However, Manceron wants to break out of this thinking. At least a little bit. So he repeatedly deviates from the agreed upon choice of food – until a small piece of dough filled with truffles and potatoes earns him and the Duke the scorn of the guests in the house. Manceron is proud enough not to want to apologize for it, but too modest and without prospects to have any greater prospects for the rest of his life. Until Louise, driven by a mysterious motivation, meets him and encourages him to continue showcasing his skills – this time on his own terms!
“It is a condensation and shortening made with love, completely true to the cookbook that the protagonist of ‘À la Carte! “The way to freedom is through the stomach.”
A farm that offers travelers the most sparse food possible, as was appropriate back then, is transformed into a restaurant that offers good, elaborate dishes that are attentive to taste and regional ingredients. Manceron and Louise achieve great things by thinking smaller and more focused. It is a paradox that Boukhrief and Besnard tell with passion. With a subliminally bubbling sensuality running through the scenes (regardless of whether it is between people or between the person enjoying and the stimulant). And with a casual, charming joke, whenever the initially rough restaurant concept continues to progress out of a spontaneous inspiration.
Before the dish is after the dish: the decadent society is still applauding the cook…
Louise and Manceron make an attractive, unequal duo. Her cuisine, broken down from the farm’s battle of ingredients and prepared for all hungry people, in which the love of the ingredients and the composition comes before boasting, also breaks with another food tradition: the purely functional “It just has to fill you up, everything else doesn’t matter.” “-Thinking of those who are far below the nobility. In the middle between these extremes, her restaurant offers a haven of peace, gathering and motivation for body and soul at the same time. And he also brings these two characters to meet in the middle: Manceron is capable and self-confident about his cooking talent, but initially unmotivated because he is too submissive to the status quo. Louise, who doesn’t let herself be seen, doggedly pursues a motivation that she is unwilling to share with Manceron – and urgently needs to learn his more diplomatic, constructive way. Gadebois and Carré harmonize perfectly, and the magnificent imagery of “À la Carte!”, thanks to which Manceron’s farm appears invitingly rustic and the food looks good enough to eat, reinforces the warmth that the characters radiate. Added to this, as it were, is a certain pinch of something, an amazingly rich sound mix that always puts us right in the middle of the scenery, and you have a cinematic treat.
Conclusion: Pure French flair, a palpable passion for good cuisine and a delicious, feel-good narrative attitude: “À la carte! – The way to freedom is through the stomach” is a truly enjoyable film.
“A la carte! The way to freedom is through the stomach” can be seen in USA cinemas from November 25, 2021.