Three Stars: Film Review

Three Stars Still - H 2012
HMR Produktion GmbH, Hajo Schomerus

Three Stars Still - H 2012

Shaky organizing concept doesn't keep doc from offering substantial foodie appeal.

Lutz Hachmeister takes a globe-hopping tour of one percenter dining destinations in the new dining documentary.

The world's most powerful restaurant guide proves as good an excuse as any to spend time with haute-cuisine superstars in Lutz Hachmeister's Three Stars. The doc has little to say about the Michelin ranking system that hasn't been said, but offers enough behind-the-scenes interest to entertain foodies and inspire a few additions to their dining-experience bucket lists. A quick niche theatrical run should be followed by respectable small-screen business.

Narrator Deborah Friedman's voiceover is as dry and factual as a high-school educational film; when she occasionally offers a bit of personal trivia about a chef, or delivers something resembling a joke, the effect is jarring. But she's hardly the only one talking here: Hachmeister is mainly interested in listening to the chefs behind restaurants whose names -- Le Meurice, Oud Sluis, Les Maisons de Bricourt -- are familiar only to the gourmet cognoscenti.

The film returns from time to time to the office of Jean-Luc Naret, the too-tan Director of the Michelin Guide, allowing him to testify about the guide's high ethical standards and overall fine-dining trends. But it happily spends much more time with chefs in their kitchens and the places they find inspiration and ingredients -- we see specialists harvesting watercress, watch as the mad scientists of Spain's Arzak freeze-dry ingredients into their powdery essence, pick through the freshest fish at Tokyo's Tsukiji market.

Around a dozen chefs discuss their varying philosophies, but more telling is the time spent observing the day-to-day functions of their businesses: While Jean-Georges Vongerichten combs over numbers in a Manhattan boardroom, friendly Nadia Santini oversees a family operation at Dal Pescatore in Runate, Italy. She's one of only six women to hold three Michelin stars, but if any stress comes with that rare honor you wouldn't know it from her kitchen. Meanwhile, some of her male counterparts are seen engaging in the can't-stand-the-heat testiness that has become familiar from reality TV.

Hachmeister has a bit of food porn to offer -- both close-ups of exquisite dishes and scenes of the rarefied service associated with that third Michelin star -- but undistinguished cinematography makes this aspect less indulgent than it could have been. More appeal comes from fly-on-the-wall scenes of all the pre-meal hubbub that diners -- and the professional tasters who rank these restaurants -- never get to see.

Production Company: HMR Produktion
Director: Lutz Hachmeister
Producers: Lutz Hachmeister, Hermance Grémion, Heike Lettau, Cécile Thomas, Uwe Herpich
Executive producers: Olaf Grunert, Christiane Hinz, Barbara Denz
Directors of photography: Hajo Schomerus, Dirk Wojcik
Editors: Mechthild Barth, Christian Wagener
No rating, 93 minutes