Another piece is added to the by now overabundant current of culinary cinema, consolidated to such an extent that it naturally flows into horror, which is, still naturally, a (self) parodic horror. In this sense The Menu, the fourth work in Mylod’s discontinuous directorial career, ideally rises to fill the place of tombstone. At the end of a parable that has now ended, one wonders what still remains to be filmed after sipping (like a good cardamom and clove infusion, of course) starred and stellar chefs on the big screen, chefs in an identity crisis, chefs failed and resurrected, and finally, indeed, crazed chefs and murderers.
Ambitious therefore the purpose of The Menunot already desserts but rather kills (sic) coffee of that cinema with a gastronomic vocation which, in the long queue of the various masterchef television, for some time now it has begun to probe itself to investigate the side sour of haute cuisine having had enough of that sweet (in conjunction with the film Mylod is in Italian cinemas Boiling Point – Disaster is served, Barantini 2021, for example). Unfortunately, however, as popular wisdom dictates, not all donuts come out with a hole. While boasting a set up certainly, tested interest – an ideal island for Battle Royale (Fukasaku 2000), a structure a la Agatha Christie, a respectable acting parterre – at the end of the meal, what remains above all a tangible insipidity of the screenplay, the aftertaste of a back-cooked direction, and the cloying palatability (yes, I wrote it) of some easy solutions ( especially as regards the notorious comic line, in fact simply out of place). So no “diesci vote” this time.
A little more specifically, let’s try to understand why the film doesn’t appear, definitively, cooked to perfection. First of all, it was said, the script seems to be scorched: a chef (the extraordinary Ralph Fiennes, here like Voldemort in an apron) plans a special dinner for months; in his luxurious island-restaurant carefully selected diners are invited for a libation that will be the last of their lives, because the menu provides that they, sadistically, are finally sacrificed, metaphorically becoming a plate. A little revenge cannibal (“you provoked me, I am great for you!”), a bit happening between Abramović, Hermann Nitsch and a foam torture porn, the chef’s plan is concocted at the tip of a knife. So far so good: but the point is that, in fact, that’s all. The guests are nothing but stereotypes, to remain in the harassing culinary terminology, “made with a cookie cutter”. The screenplay is, those who know about cooking would say, a reduction left too much on the fire. There is the middle-class couple and he cheats on her, there are the dishonest businessmen, the peasant actor with his escort, then again the sclerotic food critics who instead of eating comment with annoying self-confidence (they actually remind us of perfect film critics), and finally the food lover well beyond the limit of mental stability, convinced that he knows everything because he has seen so many gastronomic programs on television, accompanied by the mysterious Margot (a good and wasted Anya Taylor-Joy). And of course they are all (or almost) beasts, incapable of appreciating the exceptionality and exclusivity of the situation in which they find themselves, too caught up in their little ego. On the other hand there is the chef, enigmatic, militaristic and magnetic, with all his kitchen brigade, subjugated to the point of willingly participating in the project of a dinner that is not only homicidal, but also suicidal (it is expected that even they, including the chef, are leaving us, and badly too). As one would say: too much meat on the fire, and in fact the result is a sort of ill-digested bolus in which the characters are all one-dimensional (as if it were a canvas, a primordial idea for a film), the dynamics predictable and only hinted at, and the elements of authentic interest reduced to the bone. The food lover (an excellent Nicholas Hoult), initially a speck, is perhaps the only one spot on, precisely because of its evolution which cruelly shows its dark and perverse side. The chef just doesn’t work because he’s neither really crazy nor really that angry. Nothing is known about the reasons for his anger (yes ok, he says he has lost his love for cooking, thank you, it doesn’t seem like enough to burn about forty people alive), and it would be fine, except that though then it makes no sense to come up with a silly anti-capitalist morality. Margot, innocent victim of circumstances, only serves to introduce a glimmer of intelligence in a context otherwise dominated either by stupid or obsessed people, but perhaps it is a little (especially if you structure the film as a sort of Ten Little Indians but then you don’t work well on the characters). The kitchen brigade then, this is really a mystery: why so slavishly do they give themselves to a horrendous death? Is a schematic charismatic leader enough to justify everything? They are a handpicked brigade of psychopaths, as la would suggest sous chef in that unmotivated sequence in which he is the protagonist, but if so how did he find them? Perhaps by requesting teamwork skills, a predilection for molecular cuisine, and marked suicidal tendencies on the CV? And yet some of them don’t seem so happy to die, so they aren’t so crazy (maybe hostages, who knows, I don’t).
Now, therefore, the film has to be judged according to a trial of intentions: if it had simply wanted to tell the story of a bunch of deranged people who kidnap and torture diners, this would have been an interesting story, a kind of thrust into the senselessness of bad. A beautiful raw film, like a tartare, devoid of consolation and therefore pleasantly (because painfully) marinated in non-rhetoric. On the contrary, however, more than one element seems to suggest that the film instead wants to articulate a discourse on the reasons underlying that evil, expressed as a last revolutionary step by the chef, and yet it really doesn’t seem to be able to do it.
Then removed the screenplay, the director seems to have little to say. Neither particular flashes, nor inspiration, only that is appreciated decalageperhaps not entirely aware, between the meta-diegetic display of the dishes, magnified with lots of superimposed explanatory writing, and the way in which these are completely sacrificed when faced with the herd of stolid diners. As if to say: there is a representative dimension, in a certain sense pornographic (cf. food porn), of food on the media, and yet most of the people who can afford such mastery are not able to appreciate it, and indeed degrade it. Even here, however, it seems to me that we are somewhat at zero degree of Manichaeism. And the underlying ideological line confirms it, built on such a clear-cut opposition that it brings to mind those videos in which some funny guy combines hazelnut cream with mortadella: did you know that it’s not a good and right thing without having to experience it.
In fact, Margot will be the counterpart to that world of variously guilty (above all rich) against which the chef directs his fury. She, woman of pueblo, he will earn salvation by asking for a cheeseburger. But excuse me for a moment: so the chef would be a kind of Che Guevara in the kitchen, everything brunoise and raised fist? The one who lives on an island, by his own choice, in a marvelous villa, with a bevy of servants ready to die for him, and who charges 1200 steaming bucks for a dinner? Are these the premises – the poor woman who eats a sandwich and knows how to appreciate it and the wealthy who don’t understand the value of a zero km scallop – for a cinematic reflection on class conflict?
It’s true, a review that wants to be considered delicious shouldn’t go overboard with rhetorical questions. As with salt, there’s always time to add, but it’s too late to remove. However, take them a bit like lemon sorbetall you can eat, to clean the mouth. We would therefore close the tasting in a less doubtful and more affirmative way, by way of icing on the cake (or should we say petite patisserie). The Menu it has the flavor of a missed opportunity, a take-away film rather than a film that could have alluded to the sparkling notes of a Pasolini or the bittersweet notes of a Ferreri. And this is so for reasons that have been clear to fans of restaurant TV for years: good cinema is a subtractive art, better to remove than to add (as with rhetorical questions), especially if you risk – too concentrated on preferring shallots to onion, then not knowing how to deal with the protein – not to make a flat film, but to bundle up a slightly succulent assembly of elements.