Venerable documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman, who is 93 years old and still going strong, is known for his expansive, compassionate, and hard-hitting works chronicling American institutions for more than half a century. Movies like Welfare, Secondary school, Social housing, Law and Order, Domestic violence And Belfast, Maine captured the inner workings of various public bodies, be they schools, offices, communities or entire cities, and the people who propped them up. His films, often lasting three hours or more, are chock-full of bureaucratic details and details of everyday life, painting an ever-evolving portrait of America in all its complex, paradoxical glory.
Beginning in the 1990s, Wiseman began making films in France, which is now his adopted home. But instead of focusing on the country’s many public bureaucracies, which can be more intimidating and kafkaesque than those in the US, he has chosen to document a number of famous cultural institutions, from the Comédie-Française to the Opéra de Paris. and popular nude art. cabaret, the crazy horse. Compared to his American films – the most recent of which City Hallwas a deep dive into Boston’s progressive urban agenda — its French agenda, on the whole, is more, well, epicurean.
Menus-Plaisirs – Les Troisgros
It comes down to
A film from farm to fork.
That is certainly the case with Menus-Plaisirs — Les Troisgros, a 240-minute immersion in one of the best restaurants in France and the world, run by the same close-knit family for four consecutive generations. Set in the kitchens, dining rooms and adjoining farmhouses of a delightful three-star Michelin-starred hotel in the rural Loire region, the film is both a culinary enthusiast’s dream and a guide for aspiring chefs, capturing the refined alchemy nude that ensures that such places not only run flawlessly, but serves groundbreaking dishes that are also locally sourced.
The Troisgros family was at the forefront of the nouvelle cuisine movement that emerged in France in the 1960s and 1970s, when young chefs moved away from the heavy sauces and dishes of traditional haute cuisine to serve leaner, more artfully presented dishes. flat that brought out the strong flavors of fresh ingredients. Pierre Troisgros, who took over the original restaurant from his father, Jean-Pierre, in the late 1950s, was one of the main players of nouvelle cuisine. His son Michel continued that tradition to this day and in the film we see him working together are son, César, who has since taken over.
None of this is initially apparent from Wiseman’s typical fly-on-the-wall approach, which contains no titles or talking-head interviews and invites the viewer to watch and learn. There will be a few explanations about the history of the restaurant, but almost after four hours! It’s as if the director is purposely telling us to sit back, relax and smell the hot pepper and passion fruit infused sweet breads, instead of asking too many questions.
The documentary fluctuates between the latest version of Troisgros, opened by Michel and his wife, Marie-Pierre, in 2017, and poetically called Le Bois sans feuilles (The Forest Without Leaves), and scenes set on the neighboring farms where they produce, meat, cheese and wine served nightly by their elite chefs.
As in most Wiseman films, we witness every stage of the process. This includes long and passionate debates between Michel, César and youngest brother Léo (who runs a more humble establishment nearby) over a new recipe: should the rhubarb be marinated in elderberry sauce or not? — as well as visits to suppliers who supply them with all their ingredients. Troisgros is both a family-owned and farm-to-fork business, with a highly complex human supply chain where everyone knows everyone by their first name and where biodiverse, organic farming practices are employed. The order of the day.
There is, of course, a cost to this – something we learn about when the restaurant’s sommelier, who looks and acts like a Nobel Prize-winning chemist, mentions presale a bottle of wine for 15,000 euros ($16,000). Nearly all of the people we see eating at Le Bois sans feuilles are wealthy-looking older white people, and a dinner for four can easily run into the thousands, including wine. The attention paid to all their nutritional needs is something to behold and is reminiscent of the recent episode of The bear is set in an upscale Chicago restaurant that obtained FBI-level information on every customer.
And yet, for all its outrageous demands, Troisgros’ kitchen isn’t filled with pretentious, screaming French chefs like those in Ratatouille, but functions more like a high-tech lab where voices are rarely raised and perfection is all that matters. Creativity also abounds. The chefs do things with molten chocolate or fresh fish or brains of some small animal that don’t seem humanly possible, and hone their techniques through careful guidance and the steady accumulation of experience. Watching the men of Troisgros work in the kitchen – or, as Michel calls it, “my little tennis court” – is like watching athletes perform at their best in the Olympics, with the dozens of chefs who working alongside them always trying to keep up. .
Aside from the copious amount of food porn – although this is a Wiseman documentary, the food is so matter-of-factly shot by DP James Bishop, not like the dishes on Top chef — Plaisirs menus (the title is a pun meaning both ‘pleasure menu’ and ‘little pleasures’) perhaps above all leaves us with an image of harmonious bliss between work and home, man and nature, which hardly seems possible these days. “It’s been 86 years,” Michel tells a customer at the end of the film, tracing his family’s culinary roots back to the beginning. Wiseman’s first feature film, Titticut follieswas made exactly 66 years ago, and there’s something about his latest that speaks to the kind of savoir-faire that only time can give you.