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For those foodies who can’t make the pilgrimage (or dole out the cash) to visit Michel Bras’ legendary hotel-restaurant in the remote plains of Laguiole, France, director Paul Lacoste’s smart and mouthwatering documentary, Step Up to the Plate (Entre Les Bras), offers a captivating cinematic alternative. Both an incisive exploration into Bras’ kitchen wizardry and a moving portrait of family ties and the passing of generations, this Berlinale Culinary entry only needs a taste-o-rama screening system to complete the meal. Upscale art house crowds in Europe and abroad could eat it up.
Located in the heart of the southern agricultural region of Aubrac, the eponymous 3-star Michelin eatery initially opened its doors in 1978 when Bras took over from his mother, before moving into a remote modernist complex that he built in 1992. Since then, the master French chef’s meticulously assembled and flavorfully – even philosophically – elaborate dishes have won him renown the world over.
Following Bras and his son Sebastien over the year in which the keys to the kitchen are slowly, and sometimes arduously, transferred du père au fils, Lacoste applies a hands-off, very French style technique that recalls the work of Raymond Depardon and Nicolas Philibert. That said, the Bras family requires no accoutrements here, and the way they intensely and sardonically scrutinize one another’s recipes is a dramedy all on its own.
Divided up into four seasonal chapters highlighting the way local products are used to build their intricate recipes, Lacoste carefully documents the many weeks of labor Les Bras will put into creating a single entrée. While an opening montage displays the massive assortment of ingredients (flowers included) that constitute the restaurant’s famous “Gargouillou des légumes,” several late sequences – including an excursion to a Japanese branch opened in 2002 – feature Sebastien working on an brand new concoction that will signify, at least for him, the final passing of the reins.
But being a cook whose dad is Michel Bras is like being an artist whose dad is Paul Cezanne – indeed, the way Bras studies a plate resembles a painter gazing at a canvas – and crawling out from under the paternal shell is never easy. Nor, in papa’s case, is giving up a métier that has become both an institution and a way of life, and the film reveals with touching detail how the Bras tradition is as much about savoir-faire as it is about heritage and love.
Technical credits, including Yvan Quehec’s crisp HD photography, are solid. English-language subtitles, especially for the family’s unbeatable accents, much appreciated.
Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Culinary Cinema)
Production companies: Everybody On Deck, Le-Lokal, Jaime Mateus-Tique, Jour2Fete
Director: Paul Lacoste
Producers: Gaelle Bayssiere, Didier Creste
Director of photography: Yvan Quehec
Music: Karol Beffa
Editor: Anthony Brinig
Sales Agent: Jour2Fete
No rating, 89 minutes
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