French food for carnal thought

The Taste of Others

(Le Gout des Autres)

Directed by Agnès Jaoui

(Jean-Pierre Bacri, Christiane Millet, Anne Alvaro, Agnès Jaoui)


French w/ English subtitles


Food and sex go together. For a number of sociological reasons, the two have become inextricably intertwined. Perhaps it’s a remnant of our infancy, where the first sexual object we are exposed to is our mother’s bosom, which provides us with our nourishment, our food. While that explanation seems very Freudian, one can’t ignore the facts.

One cannot talk about sex without using food-related terms. People’s proclivity for intercourse is called their sexual “appetite,” a bar where guys routinely pick up girls for casual sex is called a “meat market,” a party lacking in females is dubbed a “sausage” party and oral sex with one’s partner is crassly described as “eating” them.

Oscar nominated The Taste of Others subtly explores this odd coupling, attempting to discover what exactly it is about the “taste” of certain people’s personalities that makes them appetizing to others. This exploration is conducted mainly through the character of Castella (Jean-Pierre Bacri), a wealthy businessman who is tired of his wife Angelique (Christiane Millet).

Angelique is an overbearing motherly type, who, both figuratively and literally, denies Castella the “sweeter” things in life. She constantly nags him about eating rich foods, while at the same time depriving him of the emotional and sexual excitement that he craves.

This caloric diet, coupled with the sexual anorexia that he’s suffering through has left Castella starving in more ways than one. Thus, when his wife drags him to the theatre one night, the mere sight of Clara, the savory lead actress, sparks a ravenous appetite that has long gone undernourished in Castella.

The problem is that Clara (Anne Alavaro) finds Castella, with his coarse sense of humor and total literary ignorance, barely palatable. This is where the film begins to explore its other major theme; that of class stratification and the difficulties inherent in class-jumping.

Submersed in Ibsen, Racine and Chekhov, Clara has taken on the definite taste of the highbrow intellectual, with just a dash of struggling actress thrown in for flavor. On the other hand, Castella has been slowly simmering in a mixture of soap operas and sophomoric humor, giving him the unmistakable tang of the lowbrow lout.

These conflicting tastes collide in several scenes that are painful to watch. Castella continually embarrasses himself in front of Clara’s artsy, intellectual friends with his questionable taste and crude jokes (picture Andrew Dice Clay doing standup at the trendiest coffee bar in Uptown). However, as any good chef knows, a fine cuisine must be the perfect balance of opposing flavors. The question is, is Cupid a good enough cook to form an emulsion between these two different tastes?

Not satisfied with merely exploring the class system and tackling the food/sex enigma, The Taste of Others also touches on many philosophical subjects without getting mired down in academia. These questions, such as why men can more easily forget a sexual encounter than women (apparently it has to do with the plumbing) are explored by the intriguing secondary characters in the film. After all, a main course is nothing without a few good sides to go with it.

One part Your Friends and Neighbors, two parts Small Time Crooks, with a hint of Guarding Tess thrown in for flavor, this film is a satisfying dish that dances over the tastebuds and leaves you hungry for more.

– Christopher Yocum


The Taste of Others opens today and runs through July 26th at the U Film’s Bell Auditorium.