French actors Benoit Magimel and Juliette Binoche star as lovers in the gastronomic film "The Pot-au-Feu" / © AFP
The kitchen of a 19th-century French chateau is home to an endless gastronomic feast in "The Pot-au-Feu", an ode to food with a simmering love story at its heart which left Cannes critics drooling.
The film by Vietnamese-French director Tran Anh Hung, which premiered at the festival late Wednesday, stars former real-life lovers Juliette Binoche and Benoit Magimel in the roles of cook and gourmand aristocrat.
Their romance slowly unfolds in the background of clanging pans, sizzling veal and poaching fish as complex sauces meld together.
"I really wanted to make a very French movie," said Tran at a press conference Thursday at the French Riviera film festival, which draws to a close on Saturday.
"What cannot be said out loud is said through food," he said of the love story between the two main characters.
There is virtually no music in the film, with only the sounds of nature, the kitchen, and the pleasurable groans of those eating the food to accompany the dialogue.
In one scene, the aristocrat and his gourmet friends partake of the now-banned dish of ortolan -- a rare songbird drowned in Armagnac and eaten whole while the diner's head is draped with a napkin.
The title "Pot-au-Feu" refers to the French stew-like dish of boiled meat and vegetables, which also gets a starring role in the plot.
"Food is the subject, the objective and the driving motor of this scantly plotted but utterly captivating love story," said Variety.
The Telegraph said the film was "so vividly and lovingly made, you'll swear you can smell and taste every shot."
French chef Pierre Gagnaire was the gastronomic director of the film and also appeared in a minor role / © AFP
Several critics noted the stark difference between the gluttonous film and another entry in the main Cannes competition, "Club Zero", which days earlier had teens starving themselves in a movie set around a nutrition cult.
While English-language critics loved "Pot-au-Feu", their French counterparts -- perhaps less awed by their own gastronomy -- were "left hungry," as Le Figaro wrote in its review.
The movie's food scenes were directed by multi-Michelin-starred chef Pierre Gagnaire, who also makes a brief appearance in the film.
All the food seen in the movie was real, with no props used, and Gagnaire and an assistant prepared mountains of food during filming, while the actors did plenty of their own cooking -- for which they received some training.
"This film perfectly replicates what food is, creativity, emotion, but also rigour, attention, silence, listening to the products," said Gagnaire.
He only had one note for the team: When Binoche's character pulled a poaching turbot out of the oven in one scene "you could see the milk was not hot enough."