A Taste of Hunger is a luscious production that lures viewers in through its well-crafted visual aesthetic and two brilliant central performances.
A Taste of Hunger is unlike most foodie dramas, borrowing techniques commonly used for thrillers and action films. Christoffer Boe’s latest feature is the most intense film about ambitious chefs to date. Just as a chef seeks to create a balance of taste, visuals, and scents in their cooking, Boe emulates that with his film. A Taste of Hunger is a luscious production that lures viewers in through its well-crafted visual aesthetic, its sweeping epic score, and two brilliant central performances.
A Danish power couple, Maggie (Katrine Greis-Rosenthal) and Carsten (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), run a popular restaurant in Copenhagen. The two are intensely drawn to their work as chefs and as lifetime foodies. The couple is willing to sacrifice everything to achieve their dream of getting the coveted Michelin star. However, internal and external drama threatens to prevent the two from reaching their goals, and ultimately, disrupt their pursuit of perfection.
As someone who loves to eat, but does not necessarily eat gourmet, A Taste of Hunger was truly a trying time. Some of the meals pictured with exquisite lighting and framing by cinematographer Manuel Alberto Claro looked downright inedible, but the ones that did catch the eye brought upon an unrequited love. Watching people cook or bake brilliant yet odd-looking food is difficult because humanity has not managed to advance to a stage in technology where one can reach through the screen and grab a plate to try. So, the title of the film is, in many ways, very apt for this viewing experience.
The film is, on one hand, a drama about two overly ambitious and passionate chefs trying to achieve a coveted level of success. On the other hand, it is a drama about a marriage put to the test after career takes center stage. The framing and execution are as complicated as the cooking itself. Director Christoffer Boe opts for a distinct color palette and filming technique that is reminiscent of psychological thrillers or intense action dramas. Each frame is infused with a sense of excitement and dread as Maggie and Carsten barrel towards uncertain territories. Anyone who has ever given Gordon Ramsey’s cooking show a glance might be under the assumption that the culinary world is rather cutthroat and thoroughly demanding, and A Taste of Hunger doubles down on that perception.
However, the culinary world is merely a catalyst for this drama about a power couple and their marriage. While exploring a complicated marriage onscreen is not new, the backdrop adds to the intensity of the conflict between Maggie and Carsten. Boe and co-writer Tobias Lindholm bring a level of care and attention that echoes the protagonist’s pursuit for perfection and excellence. They weave a story that is always engaging to the senses. Mikkel Maltha and Anthony Lledo’s score is that integral final touch that brings all of the elements together. As A Taste of Hunger reaches its conclusion, one will either find themselves stuffed and satisfied or hungry for more.
Katrine Greis-Rosenthal and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau are brilliant in their respective roles. Each is bringing different, but complementary, energies to their characters. Carsten is a perfectionist and utterly devoted to his work, to the point where he cannot differentiate his work kitchen from his home kitchen. Meanwhile, Maggie appears to have a better work-life balance, but her husband’s volatile nature is matched with her own unfortunate traits. In a scene with family and friends, Maggie and Carsten are asked, “How do you avoid killing each other?” It’s a question that must be an intentional nod to the crux of the drama.
Boe’s writing expertly navigates this question through the writing in the film. However, it is Greis-Rosenthal and Coster-Waldau’s performances that chew up this question. You can see the joy and thrill that comes from this pairing, but the things that might make them perfect for each other could easily be their downfall. As Boe and Lindholm craft a narrative about the severity of the pursuit of perfection in the culinary world, they bring together a highly intense personal drama about a couple who has their marriage tested because of it. Seemingly unrelated to the culinary world — a neglectful spouse, infidelity, and the usual marital problems — adds to the rich text of perfectionists challenged on the job. The film is truly a feast for the eyes and ears. Bon appétit — or, as the Danish would say, Nyd din mad!
A Taste of Hunger released in theaters and on demand Friday, January 28. It is 100 minutes long and is not rated.
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