Tran Anh Hung Cooks Up Tokyo Film Festival Masterclass With ‘The Taste of Things’

French-Vietnamese director Tran Anh Hung spoke about the making of “The Taste of Things” (previously titled “The Pot-au-Feu”) the food-themed romantic drama that won him best director award at Cannes this year, at the master class held Tuesday at the Tokyo International Film Festival.  

Screening in TIFF’s Gala section, the film stars Juliette Binoche and Benoît Magimel as respectively a chef and gourmet. Set in 1885, the film depicts their relationship, which mixes romance with food, based on a 1924 novel by Marcel Rouff. It has been selected by France as its international Oscar contender.

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“I had always wanted to make a film about food,” Hung told the audience. “Cooking is an art form. I also wanted to make a film about the love between a couple in the autumn of their lives.” 

He said that the project had a gestation going back two decades when Binoche and Magimel were romantically linked in real life. He added that he had “known Binoche for a long time” and when he approached her about the role “she immediately said yes.” He described the atmosphere on the set between the two actors, who share a daughter, but separated in 2003, as “surprising.” 

As for the scenes of cooking, Hung said that he wanted to avoid merely filming beautiful images: “I wanted to capture the people working at the art of cooking.” But he added, “I hope you watch the film on an empty stomach.” 

He also mentioned his wife He Tran Nu Yen Khe, who served as costume designer on “The Taste of Things,” as well as acting in his other films, including “The Scent of Blue Papaya,” “Cyclo,” and “The Vertical Ray of the Sun.” Describing her as a “great observer,” he said that she could look at the monitor and immediately tell if a color was not correct. “I learn a lot from her,” he said.  

Another influence on the film, Hung said “was my mother’s kitchen.” Raised in a working class home, he reminisced, “Our living environment was not beautiful. The only thing I thought was beautiful was the kitchen.”

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