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There are definitely more worthy endeavors than circling the globe in search of the perfect cut of meat, but French producer-director Franck Ribiere nonetheless delivers an absorbing, and often enlightening, quest for the world’s greatest sirloin in his exhaustive food documentary, Steak (R)evolution. Filled with enough sizzling, mouthwatering hunks of beef to keep carnivores drooling in their seats and have herbivores gagging toward the exits, this unapologetic flesh-eating investigation reveals what it takes – from the ranch to the butcher block to the grill – to turn one of the simplest of meals into a veritable art form, no condiments required.
Yet this engrossing, somewhat overlong 130-minute expose also raises questions about mass food production and the ways in which man and nature interact on the dinner plate, reaching a conclusion that could even please the likes of Jonathan Safran Foer: eating animals is no laughing matter, and the best steaks on the planet are often those that result from the most humane livestock raising techniques.
It’s an argument Michael Pollan made with extreme eloquence in his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, to which this film plays out like a friendly and celebratory footnote. And one that’s filled with enough juicy tenderloin close-ups – in a brand of food porn best described as “filetio” – to propel it beyond Gallic borders into festivals, scattered theaters and onto VOD networks catering to farmers and foodies alike.
The “(r)evolution” of the film’s title began when the director, whose family raised Charolais cows in eastern France, went to New York and had an epiphany when he tried the famous porterhouse at Peter Luger in Williamsburg. Not only did it taste better than anything he had ever eaten back home, but the restaurant’s cooking technique (they broil it twice) didn’t explain everything: it had to be the meat.
This sets Ribiere off on a journey, accompanied by top-notch Parisien butcher Yves-Marie Le Bourdonnec, to find out who’s making the best steaks around the world, and how they’re doing it. Ranking a steakhouse Top 10 as they travel from the Pampas of Argentina to Angus country in Scotland to the legendary Kobe beef ranches of Japan (where, in order to obtain the perfect marbling, the cows are fed hand-mixed grains, massaged in Saki and caressed with the music of Mozart), the filmmakers depict a highly committed group of farmers and chefs who treat their cattle with plenty of TLC, and whose concern for quality over quantity ultimately translates to the final product.
As the two Frenchies traverse the globe, it becomes a sad reality that their homeland, well known for its longstanding traditions of haute-cuisine, is generally behind the times in terms of producing delicious beef, even if it remains a nation of serious meat-eaters. (When Burger King reopened in Paris last December after a 16-year hiatus, the lines snaked around the block.) On the other hand, newer establishments like Fleisher’s Pasture-Raised Meats in Brooklyn or the iWagyu breeding farm in Sweden are leading the way in a veritable revolution that will likely change the way we all eat meat in the future.
While Steak provides a comprehensive portrait of these various upscale ranches and eateries, it conspicuously leaves out the slaughterhouse – usually a major part of any documentary tackling the meat-making process. It’s certainly a bit of a cop-out, especially since Ribiere and his production company, La Fabrique de Films, have been responsible for some of the goriest French movies in recent memory, including Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury’s extreme ketchup-fest, Inside.
But the missing elephant (or bovine) in the room doesn’t take away from the film’s underlying message, which – despite a lengthy running time that could probably use a more efficient, er, cut – is still made passionately clear when the crew arrives at their final destination: a place where man and meat seem to live in perfect harmony. That is until one eventually slices up the other, sprinkles on some salt and cooks it over a slow-burning fire. You’ll never look at that ribeye the same way again.
Production companies: La Ferme! Productions, C. Productions
Director: Franck Ribiere
Screenwriters: Franck Ribiere, Verane Frediani
Producer: Verane Frediani
Editor: Verane Frediani
Composer: Eric Jeanne
Sales agent: Jour2Fete
No rating, 130 minutes
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