What a delicious double feature! I saw these movies months ago and can still taste them! I love food. The science and the art. I don’t cook. I do bake, mind you–and  just LOVE to eat, taste, try new things, analyze recipes and whatever I’m eating (ooh.. the crumb on that cake!… Is that star anise I taste?). I love beautiful presentation with just the right china, crystal, and silver. I am an unabashed food aesthete and cinephile and both of these films fall right into my sweet spot– different but equally delectable.

THE TASTE OF THINGS is a ravishing feast of food and romance, appetite and longing, life and death, love and loss. The opening sequence almost made me faint. It’s a 38-minute non-stop glissando of  culinary magic as the camera moves us through the large rustic kitchen of a 19th century manor house in the French countryside where an elaborate meal is being prepared. There’s gorgeous, ageless Juliette Binoche as head cook Eugenie, supervising her assistants while they prepare a multi-course meal.  The guests are those of the head of the house, Dodin Bouffant (the elegant Benoit Magimel) a gourmet among gourmets known for his exceptionally refined palate; his guests, also gourmands, wait in the candlelit dining room for Eugenie’s exquisite dishes.

Unfolding in the kitchen is a choreography of copper pots and steaming caldrons; we glide from stocks and sauces simmering, to a veal rack seared and sizzling in a hot pan. Nearby crayfish and a big flat turbot with hollandaise are prepped; fresh peas tumble from their pods, fat heads of lettuce are bathed, wilted, and tenderly wrapt; a vol-au-vent here, pot-au-feu there–it’s a symphony of courses culminating in a mountain of iced cream and meringue set aflame–an elaborately swirled and singed Baked Alaska. Sunlight streams in and clouds of steam curl above the pink cheeks of exhausted but exhilarated cooks– the meal is a triumph. This sequence alone would have earned writer/director Ahn Hung Trahn his prize at Cannes this year for Best Director.

The movie is based on a fictional character in a novel by Marcel Rouff, who was in turn inspired by real-life 19th century French gourmet Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin.  Dodin is the head of the house, but Eugenie is the key to Dodin’s kitchen and his heart. She has been his cook for 20 years and the love of his life, but she will not marry him though she is happy to share his bed when she wishes. Her sovereignty is sacred, and surprisingly modern. Her self-possession and his ardor propel this bittersweet meditation on savoring and sharing life’s pleasures and passions. And there is a gifted young kitchen apprentice Pauline (the wide-eyed, ethereal young actress Bonnie Chagneau-Ravoire ).Their spiritual offspring and inheritor, young Pauline embodies the promise that this paradise will not be lost.

Indeed. As Eugenie and Dodin stroll through the country and dine on long tables beneath the trees, cinematographer Jonathan Ricquebourg has given us impressionist paintings in motion, and yet another luscious and  extended sequence that bookends that opening. When Eugenie refuses Dodin’s marriage proposal yet again, he draws on all his skill and depth of feeling to woo her. This time she is the one who sits by candlelight as he serves up an ocean of delights: troves of plump oysters and caviar, and even bottles of champagne rescued from a long-ago shipwreck. It’s impossibly romantic and climaxes with one perhaps too precious edit–a silken poached pear dissolves into the shape of the object of Dodin’s desire.

THE TASTE OF THINGS now in theaters and eventually streaming –is France’s entry for Best International Feature Film at this year’s Oscars!

Then take a breather and prepare to dive into another sumptuous cinematic offering, also an Oscar contender: “MENUS-PLAISIRS-LES TROISGROS”clocks in at 4 hours and is worth every second. This is legendary documentarian, 93 year-old Frederick Wiseman’s 44th film. He leaves no crumb unturned behind the scenes of a three-star Michelin restaurant nestled in the French countryside. There, over four generations and more than half a century, the Troisgros family dynasty remains atop the food chain enjoying the highest culinary rating in the world– three stars by the Michelin Guide. Wiseman ushers us inside this food mecca to reveal how and why. Once again, the filmmaker gets out of the way and lets his camera do the talking– and that camera is everywhere, remarkably invisible to us and apparently those on whom it trains its gaze, including the two sons and a daughter who are already assuming the mantle. Through Wiseman’s lens, we travel from farm to table, observing the painstaking effort by a seeming cast of thousands who move like one organism transforming pristine raw ingredients into culinary extravaganzas.

The whole operation hums like a hive, the family directing every particular in back and out front where a member of the wait staff, or the sommelier, or Master Chef Cesar Troisgros, or his chef sons come out to chat with new and longtime diners (occasionally Cesar goes on too long!) in any of their three restaurants. The primary focus here is on the restaurant in Roanne called “Le Bois Sans Feuilles” — “the forest without leaves. ” True to its name, diners sit around polished wood tables scattered amid a forest of tall sculpted trees without leaves, in a transparent dining room, its floor-to-ceiling glass walls disappearing into the fields and gardens outside…

The magic is in the crazy-close observation of every facet: we see the staff foraging, walking through vineyards, choosing the best tomato, the right truffle, the perfect cheese …Where does the milk come from? Who are the cows and goats and what do they eat? The suppliers and farmers tell all.  Once the ingredients make their way into the bright, wide open kitchen, we watch as teams of chefs– predominantly men– work their magic quietly and in tandem, using an array of instruments a surgeon might wield for maximum precision; all manner of chopping, severing, slicing, tweezing is employed while we stare, mesmerized, as wildly imaginative culinary compositions take shape. The camera cuts too– enough to render the scope of what is happening, but also to linger, close up, on the the delicacy required, the nuances of taste, temperature, timing, and presentation. Veal Brains and Frogs are on the menu. So are Birds Nests and Chocolate Capers. And if anything is less than perfect, the unfortunate dish is tossed and begun again. Wiseman has edited countless hours of video with his signature genius for capturing both the big picture and the tiny details; the result is a movie– which even at 240 minutes –is still more than the sum of its parts.

See MENUS-PLAISIRS-LES TROISGROS now in theaters and streaming FREE this Spring. Be warned: I may have gained 10 pounds just watching these films.