The Fruit Hunters: Film Review
Tuesday, May 14 (Cinedigm/Docurama)
This globe trotting food porn doc, based on Adam Leith Gollner's book, follows people who obsess over bizarre produce.
A ripe slice of food porn with enough substance to engage viewers who don't have Bon Appetit subscriptions, Yung Chang's The Fruit Hunters convincingly shows just how little of the world's great produce ever makes it to a supermarket shelf. Sure to be enjoyed on small screens, the globe-hopping picture's rich production values will shine in art houses, however briefly.
Chang himself narrates the film, based on Adam Leith Gollner's book, in even tones that are the film's sole flavorless element. His subjects have much more personality -- from the scholar in Umbria, Italy who scours monasteries for rare plant varieties, then identifies them using centuries-old paintings, to the indigenous nomad in Borneo who knows which plants can't be eaten but will help with a dog's wounds. Then there's Bill Pullman, who's been planning and building orchards since his boyhood, seen here trying to organize a massive community garden in the Hollywood Hills.
The film travels from Indonesia to Honduras and beyond, with stops in more mundane locales like Florida, where the Rare Fruit Council International gathers like-minded collectors who show off their finds and those they've managed to cultivate on their own land. We see bizarre items like citrus caviar, the water apple and ice-cream beans, taking breaks for indulgent photographic reveries in which DP Mark O Fearghail captures enough moist, engorged, creamy images to make the film's frequent mentions of vegetative sexuality sound restrained. Olivier Alary's marimba-heavy score is a perfect accompaniment, evoking Indonesian gamelans without tying the film too specifically to that corner of the fruit-growing world.
Inevitably, environmental concerns arise -- loggers threaten species in Borneo; the global dominance of a single banana variety (the Cavendish, in case you're wondering) makes the ubiquitous fruit surprisingly vulnerable to extinction -- but Chang gives these concerns only as much attention as necessary. He'd prefer to spin the occasional fruit-centric yarn from world history (the Tang Dynasty, we're told, fell partly thanks to an emperor's indulgence of his lover's lust for lychee) and soak up the knowledge and enthusiasm of those bent on creating living libraries of rare varieties. As a charming animation sequence in the opening credits makes clear, there are enough exotic fruits out there to make one's head spin.
Production Company: EyeSteelFilm
Director: Yung Chang
Screenwriters: Yung Chang, Mark Slutsky, Mila Aung-Thwin; based on the book by Adam Leith Gollner
Producers: Bob Moore, Mila Aung-Thwin, Kat Baulu
Executive producers: Daniel Cross, Ravida Din, Robin Smith
Director of photography: Mark O Fearghail
Music: Olivier Alary, Johannes Malfatti
Editors: Hannele Halm, Omar Majeed, Mila Aung-Thwin
No rating, 95 minutes