'Foodies': San Sebastian Review

Foodies Film Still - H 2014
San Sebastian Film Festival

Foodies Film Still - H 2014

A deftly crafted sorbet, by no means devoid of nutritional value

Swedish-Dutch documentary on top-end culinary bloggers takes viewers on a globe-trotting quest for gastronomic excellence

Somewhat unappetizing on paper but surprisingly palatable on screen, smart Swedish documentary Foodies casts an eyebrow-cocked glance at a handful of gastronomy-obsessed bloggers who spend their free time tracking down the world's most acclaimed eateries.

A sleekly appointed chronicle of quirky eccentricity that along the way yields some intriguing insights into 21st century ways of life, it escapes the limitations of the increasingly popular "culinary cinema" sub-genre and will be of interest for nonfiction festival programmers and upscale TV channels.

Officially a co-production with the Netherlands, the film is handled by Amsterdam-based Fortissimo — whose previous chow-centric title Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011) scored art house distribution in several territories. Like David Gelb's picture, this collaboration between TV-seasoned trio Charlotte Landelius (also credited as editor and cinematographer), Henrik Stockare and Thomas Jackson focuses firmly on the Michelin-starred end of the posh-nosh market, with the venerable French guidebook received as holy writ by its quintet of subjects.

Hailing from the U.K., the United States, Thailand, Lithuania and China (Hong Kong), the five make for illuminating, often entertaining company — although, ironically, their brand of high-toned tourism, involving journeys much grander than the "hundred foot" variety celebrated in Lasse Hallstrom's current restaurant-hopping hit, is presented here as a solitary pursuit.

Invariably enjoying their repasts at a table for one, the bloggers connect with others primarily through technology: their own websites, plus social media outlets such as Twitter and Instagram. Indeed, before any knife, fork or chopstick is wielded, the daring diners are assiduous in deploying a seemingly indispensable tool of their unpaid trade, the digital camera, to capture in close-up whatever chef-concocted treat is about to disappear down their gullets. 

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There's only so much of this experience that cinema can convey, of course, with nuances of smell and taste excluded from the overwhelmingly visual medium. But the film functions more as an anthropological survey of bizarre human phenomena than as a taste-bud-pricking smorgasbord of experimental cuisine.

Marbled with humor throughout, Foodies — superfluously subtitled The Culinary Jetset — serves up absurd extremes of ingenuity and opulence with a straight face: a stomach-churning dish named "Sex on the Beach"' with ingredients presented in what's intended to look like a used condom; a store selling Fuji apples at $10 a pop; an "extremely expensive" morsel-sized mushroom, which apparently "grows inside a beetle's stomach" and then emerges from the hapless critter's nose.

Welcome context and insight is provided by brash Noo Yawk former record-company executive Steve Plotnicki, who persuasively outlines his own philosophies of cookery (which "doesn't have to be delicious") and acknowledges the moral concerns involved in shelling out hundreds, perhaps thousands of dollars on obscure dishes while billions around the globe languish, famished. His extended sparring encounter with superstar chef Wylie Dufresne is a particular highlight, their contretemps bringing into sharp focus the ethics and practices of bloggers who, it's easy to forget, are a category apart from actual professional food critics.

And while the specter of Ratatouille's Anton Ego is seldom far from the banquet, not to mention I Am Love's Tilda Swinton and her "amorous" prawn, Foodies is itself an arrestingly poised combo of glintingly metallic cinematography and elegant onscreen captions (each of the 32 restaurants is accompanied by an appropriate number of Michelin stars). Even the subtitles are unobtrusively chic, although the globalized world on view is one with English very much as lingua franca. Narrator Adrian Moar's chummy voiceover, meanwhile, crucially keeps things at least to some degree "down to earth," his warm Cockney tones exuding a trencherman's relish for nice eel pie.

Production company: B-Reel
Directors: Thomas Jackson, Charlotte Landelius, Henrik Stockare
Screenwriters: Thomas Jackson, Charlotte Landelius, Henrik Stockare
Producers: Patrik Andersson, Frederik Heinig, Mattias Nohrborg
Cinematographer: Charlotte Landelius

Editor: Charlotte Landelius
Composers: Andreas Soderstrom, Johan Berthling
Sales: Fortissimo, Amsterdam

No MPAA rating, 94 minutes