Roger Gual’s Tasting Menu is a light, summery invitation for a conventionally attractive film date that won’t necessarily turn into a lifelong thing. Despite its pretty face, this cinematic partner’s IQ is slightly too low to get you seriously hooked.
The director resorts to a popular structural trick. Tasting Menu is set in a limited space (the award-winning restaurant Chakula) and within a finite time-gap (the last evening of its operation), hinting at an impeding caesura, which at times aids a script that’s not able to deliver expected tension on its own. Full of logical holes and easy assumptions, the screenplay by Javier Calvo, Silvia González Laá and Gual would make a great bet in “guess-what-will-happen-in-the-end” game.
Set in Barcelona but shot in Ireland, Tasting Menu is one of few features that, at least in theory, feature culinary art. For that reason, the superficiality with which the film tackles the customs and mysteries of food and its makers is even more condemnable. The only notions accentuated vividly enough are exclusiveness and sophistication of this last supper, its detachment from the plain, “ordinary” bread-eaters. The character of Mar (Vicenta N’Dongo), named the best chef in the world three times (who named her will remain a mystery) is completely wasted. Why does she want to close such a successful joint amidst its peaking popularity? What fuels her in her culinary peregrinations? The camera wanders around the kitchen presenting unusual shapes and colors reminiscent of a circus parade, but suggests no understanding of the culinary process. Somehow chauvinistically, it finds Mar’s romantic relation with the restaurant manager Max (Andrew Tarbet) more intriguing than her talents and passions.
Meanwhile, the restaurant is packed to capacity with character archetypes. One look at Rachel (Claudia Bassols) and Marc (Jan Cornet), a married couple on the brink of divorce, it’s only a matter of scenes before they rekindle their flame. Not even Rachel’s new boyfriend Daniel (cartoonishly played by Timothy Gibbs) can’t interfere with fate. The recently widowed Countess (Fionnula Flanagan) will of course shed her cynical mask and learn to appreciate life again. Japanese businessmen who came to make an offer to Mar will gladly welcome some tipsy Catalan cool and break their perfect Asian composure. The magic of the food, the sophisticated celebration – and wine – will help all of Chakula’s guests forget their past struggles in an instant. If this naïve magic was available in pill form, I bet it would become a bestseller. Farewell, Zoloft and Lexapro. Welcome, Chakulax.