Mussels in Love: Berlin Review

Mussels in Love L'Amour des Moules - H 2013

Mussels in Love L'Amour des Moules - H 2013

These mussels from Brussels (actually, from the Netherlands) are tasteful if not always comprehensible.

Willemiek Kluijfhout's documentary opened Berlin's seventh annual Culinary Cinema section.

BERLIN -- Mussels ejaculate. Not only do they ejaculate, but in order to reproduce, male and female mussels must do so simultaneously -- and apparently, with much difficulty. This and other phenomena are among the highlights of director Willemiek Kluijfhout’s documentary Mussels in Love (L’Amour des moules), a relatively endearing seafood story that tends to favor artfulness over information, sketching a portrait of the Dutch fishing industry that could use more clarity -- plus some onscreen titles -- to underline the issues at hand. The short and playful foodie feature should continue its fest run until landing on specialty networks, with niche theatrical slots in Europe.

Only the press notes help clarify that the doc is set mostly in the coastal Dutch province of Zeeland, where we spend a few seasons with a handful of characters who live and work with mussels on a daily basis. Among them are expert breeder Annelies Pronker, hardened fisherman Henk Jumelet and top chef Sergio Herman, whose Michelin three-star restaurant Oud Sluis features prominently in the film’s latter section.

Through these subjects, the lifecycle of many a mollusk is revealed from conception to harvesting to the dinner plate, with cinematographer Remko Schnorr (The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology) capturing the creatures in several mesmerizing extreme close-up sequences, including an early one that could be best described as “shellfish porn” -- money shots included.

Otherwise, we follow the professionals as they go about cultivating what appears to be the region’s principal export, most of which is shipped next door to Belgium, where the population leads the world in mussel munching, consuming up to 30,000 tons a year. However, filling so many pots isn’t easy, and the film describes -- though never all that clearly -- some of the problems caused by mass consumption and EU regulations, which force fisherman to resort to newer, apparently constraining techniques.

All Mussels would need to make its content that much richer is a few title cards outlining the characters, locations and figures so that viewers unfamiliar with the terrain could draw connections more easily. This would be particularly helpful when the film delves into political and ecological issues that remain hazy for anyone far removed from the industry.

Despite the murkiness both under and above water, Kluijfhout draws some interesting parallels between human and mussel behavior: how they need to be in the right mood to copulate, how they use their “beards” to band together as families and how the tastiest specimens are those that suffer the least amount of stress. These moments, coupled with the arresting visuals and swoony Francophone songs by composer Tuur Florizoone (Moscow, Belgium), make for a charming and flavorful package that’s easier to swallow than it is to follow.

Production companies: Trueworks, Associate Directors
Director: Willemiek Kluijfhout
Producer: Reinette van de Stadt
Director of photography: Remko Schnorr
Music: Tuur Florizoone
Editors: Dieter Diependaele, Govert Janse
Sales Agent: Autlook Films
No rating, 73 minutes