Length: 103 minutes
Director: Slony Sow
Story: Slony Sow
Script: Slony Sow
Music: Frédéric Holyszewski
Production: Oliver-Frost Films, Slony Pictures, Nompareille Productions, Sunny Side Up
Gérard Depardieu: Gabriel Carvin
Sandrine Bonnaire: Louise Carvin
Pierre Richard: Rufus
Rod Paradot: Nino Carvin
Bastien Bouillon: Jean Carvin
Kyōzō Nagatsuka: Tetsuichi Morita
Eriko Takeda: Fumi Morita
Kyōko Koizumi: Taya
Antoine Duléry: Robert
Zinedine Soualem: Mohamad
Assa Sylla: la bookeuse
Gabriel Carvin (Gérard Depardieu) is one of France's most famous chefs and a foodie through and through. His own family, however, has always come up short with all the culinary career tricks. Regrettably, over the years he has lost his own appetite for life. Even the third award with the crystal star, which his noble restaurant "Monsieur Quelqu'un" is the only restaurant in France to receive, can no longer inspire him. Especially because this is awarded by the restaurant critic with whom his wife is cheating on him.
It was only when he was forced to slow down after a heart attack that the corpulent kitchen professional slowly took control of his life again. In order to find a former cooking opponent, Gabriel travels to Japan. There he wants to finally get behind the secret of UMAMI, a mysterious fifth flavor note. In addition to aromatic noodle soups, old rivalries and many new friendships, the realization that there is more room in life than just a passion and that it is never too late to be part of a family awaits him in distant Japan.
according to Lars-Christian Daniels
Sour and salty, bitter and sweet: these are the four tastes that our palate is generally able to distinguish. But there is a fifth one that many people are not even aware of and which is found in soy sauce, tomatoes or green tea: In Japanese it is called “umami” and is often triggered on our tongues by glutamate.
“Umami” is the original French title of Slony Sow’s second film. In “The Taste of Small Things,” an aging star chef flies from France to the land of the rising sun to get to the bottom of the recipe for umami dishes.
The star chef Gabriel Carvin (Gérard Depardieu), who runs the luxury restaurant “Monsieur Quelqu’un” within the walls of an old monastery, can be happy: his restaurant has finally received the prestigious third crystal star. But he no longer feels like celebrating after work: his wife Louise (Sandrine Bonnaire), who runs a strict regiment as head of human resources at his gourmet temple, is openly cheating on him with the restaurant critic Robert Groult (Antoine Duléry). The relationship with his eldest son Jean (Bastien Bouillon) is also not the best. And things get even worse: Gabriel suffers a heart attack and has to undergo bypass surgery.
After his release from the clinic and a hypnosis session with the oyster farmer Rufus (Pierre Richard), who is a close friend of his, Gabriel decides to take one last trip to the Far East. There he wants to see the Japanese chef Tetsuichi Morira (Kyozo Nagatsuka) again, who had already relegated him to second place in a competition in Paris in 1978 and impressed the jury with his umami skills. Meanwhile, a high-reach food blogger has announced her visit, so the restaurant can't actually afford Gabriel's abstinence.
Director and screenwriter Slony Sow didn't make a film purely about cooking or about exceptional talent at the stove. Although Gabriel's culinary trip to Japan and his umami research form the narrative framework of the story, in the end "The Taste of Small Things" is above all a film about aging and the little time you have left for the really important things, if you have thrown yourself into work all your life.
And so the tragicomedy doesn't start in Gabriel's hectic Michelin-starred kitchen, but with a prologue that anticipates the later course of his trip to Japan: We see the bon vivant, who hasn't paid attention to his health and body for decades, in a washroom with a Japanese “salaryman” (Akira Emoto). A scene of two men who share their loneliness that evening and seem to be something like soul mates. The Asian workaholic also acts as an off-screen narrator, giving the film its philosophical depth.
Structurally and in its tonality, the film can be structured like a three-course meal preceded by “Greetings from the kitchen”: After the short prologue, two storylines run parallel in Europe and Asia in the first third, on the one hand everyday life in the restaurant and Gabriel's health problems and introduce the characters to Japan in the second narrative track. While umami chef Tetsuichi Morira only appears in the middle part, we first get to know his daughter Fumi (Eriko Takeda): She works as a waitress for him and in turn looks after her own, suicidal daughter Mai (Sumire Matsubara), who was bullied online and therefore doesn't find any more joy in life.
While the narrative tone here is still serious and sometimes tragic, in the strong second third the film turns into a humorous, if predictable, culture clash with wonderful “lost in translation” moments. The irony doesn't always just take place on the soundtrack: when the tired Gabriel clumsily heaves himself into a tiny sleeping box, is complimented in an overly friendly manner in the elevator or despairs in exasperation at an automatic door, the film has its best moments. The parallel contrast between Morira's stuffy soup kitchen and the posh, high-end restaurant in which the influencer (Assa Sylla) takes photos of her expensive lobster with her tablet is also wonderfully absurd.
However, we are hardly interested in whether the French food blogger is satisfied. And the fact that Gabriel's son only knows how to shine as interim head chef when he steps out of his father's long shadow in his abstinence has often been told as the moral of the story. Gabriel's trip to Japan turns out to be much more interesting - but even though the trip takes place in the frosty winter, the whole thing unfortunately drifts a bit towards kitsch at the end.
Instead of getting to the bottom of the umami secret through culinary means, at some point we see two aging men riding bicycles while grinning, suddenly a Japanese rock band roars and two lonely teenagers philosophize about whether learning is traveling or traveling is learning. This detracts from the overall impression, which has been so solid to date, and is not offset by the performance of Gérard Depardieu, who carries the film through his physical presence alone. “Umami” is defined at the end as “a flavor enhancer for the jumps of the heart” – and that’s pretty much how the final third feels.
Conclusion: Entertaining, feel-good film that starts promisingly and entertains for a long time, but gets a bit cheesy in the home stretch.
We saw “The Taste of Little Things” at the 39th French Film Days Tübingen-Stuttgart.
The film impresses above all with its professionalism in all details: story, script, direction, editing, documentation, etc. The director Slony Sow, who incidentally appears in the film as a surgeon at Monsieur Carvin's bedside, leaves his mark on everything. The story could also have suggested by an AI, with all the ingredients to serve all the clichés that are currently in vogue.
In the film the star chef Gabriel Carvin and his oystercatcher friend Rufus sing a hit by Claude François, which was first published in 1977. The video clip is from 1978.
"Magic Pink", background music when visiting Matsuba-san.
Everything turns pink: the panda, the penguin, father and mother.
A title by Sada Masashi.
Background music as the star chef comes to his big insight at the end.
"Why reach for the moon when you have the stars."
A title by Etienne Daho.