Tran Anh Hung doesn’t cook, but he loves observing hands at work, faces chewing, the choreography in a kitchen. With his latest film, awarded best director in Cannes 2023, and nominated to represent France for the Oscar for Best Foreign Film (note: not selected, much to our disappointment) ” The Taste of Things,” he once again delights us with his sensual and evocative cinema.
We met him at the Smith Rafael Film Center.
Bonjour Tran, you studied philosophy. How did it shape your cinema?
In reality, it influenced me very little because I quickly realized it wasn’t for me, and I switched to photography and cinema at l’École Nationale Louis Lumière. That’s where I discovered my style and passion for the “right” image. I never seek to create beauty but accuracy because it automatically generates beauty.
You are the French filmmaker of sensuality. It is more obvious with the visuals, sound, and texture of a film. But how do you translate the sense of taste into an image here?
I rely on memory, and especially sound. In addition to images, it activates perception. It’s also a collaborative effort with my Director of Photography: I let him work on texture, colors, while I focus on framing.
Close-ups are readable; for example, the face of the young apprentice tells everything she experiences.
I also wanted to capture melancholy, an effect of maturity; the fragility of life… We worked on colors to express summer, so dear to Eugénie. Time materializes.
What inspired the concept of creating a film centered around cooking?
I grew up in Vietnam, where cooking is crucial. We eat with chopsticks, which have a language to respect. They express the relationship with the world, but there is no aggression at the table.
Then I moved to France, where the table is both a social place and a place of education. Roland Barthes wrote that it’s a violent place: with cutlery, we cut, we poke, we tear… But for me, it was more the stress of questions asked: we go around the table and question guests, including children. “What are you reading now? Why?” Conversely, it’s also a place of great palate sensuality and social exchanges, on dishes, and then on everything else. Cuisine has real political power. Napoleon, who didn’t like to spend much time at the table, understood it well when he assigned an excellent chef to his Prime Minister, Talleyrand, as he knew the power it conferred.
In the film, the kitchen transforms into a conversation between the two protagonists. It allows Eugénie to resist Dodin. As for him, he uses his cooking skills to show her how avant-garde he is, to seduce her.
There’s this competition between them. And by the way, when she asks him if she’s his cook or his wife, he answers “My cook!”. It’s more rewarding for them.
Do you also like working with family?
Yes, it’s my wife who cooks, not me (laughs). I’m joking: she writes with me, designs all the costumes. She is s also an actress, in my early films. Collaboration allows for a formidable yet fair critique!
Why do you make movies?
I’ve always loved the power of images, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that melancholy, nostalgia, are taking up more and more space in my life. That’s what I’m trying to convey in my films now. For example, in my film “Norwegian Woods,” adapted from Murakami’s splendid book, nostalgia is the true heroine of the film. In fact, its author is a specialist in literary melancholy. In “Eternity,” it’s the generations that I depict. It’s a constant in my films: the power of family, great loves, friendship, childhood… but everything always transforms and never returns. It must be accepted. With images, it’s sometimes easier.