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With: Bernard Giraudeau, Jean-Pierre Lorit, Florence Thomassin, Charles Berling, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Artus de Penguern, Laurent Spielvogel, Elisabeth Macocco, Anne-Marie Philipe, Delphine Zingg, David D'Ingeo, Frédéric De Goldfiem
Written by: Gilles Taurand and Bernard Rapp, based on the novel by Philippe Balland
Directed by: Bernard Rapp
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Language: French, with English subtitles
Running Time: 90
Date: 04/26/2000
IMDB

A Matter of Taste (2000)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Cooking with Gas

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I've seen two movies recently that explore the notion of symbiosis between human beings; how we imperfect creatures tend to be drawn together despite our idiosyncrasies and behavioral differences. Lukas Moodysson's Together (which opens next Friday) looks at the complex Petri dish of a hippie commune circa 1975, while the new hugely disturbing A Matter of Taste goes one step further, looking at a more dangerous, one-on-one symbiosis.

A Matter of Taste spins the tale of a wealthy businessman named Delamont (Bernard Giraudeau) who hires a young restaurant waiter named Riviere (Jean-Pierre Lorit) to be his personal taster. Delamont's intentions at first don't seem out of the ordinary. He can't eat fish or cheese and needs someone to detect them before he eats them by accident. Delamont also asks Riviere to quit smoking, which also seems reasonable. We don't want Rivere's taste buds to be all mucked up, do we?

But things grow stranger. Delamont becomes obsessed in making sure that they each look about the same and keep the same weight. He sends Riviere off to a weird diet camp, making him fast for a few days before feeding him slightly-poisoned fish and cheese, so that he becomes sick and loses his taste for those forbidden foods, as Delamont has.

It finally dawns on Riviere that his situation has grown out of control when Delamont insists on having sex with a woman that Riviere has picked up in a bar, and when he goads Riviere into breaking his own leg to match Delamont's skiing injury.

Director Bernard Rapp and veteran screenwriter Gilles Taurand (Time Regained & Thieves) effectively tell the story through a series of flashbacks as a detective grills the players in the story about the events as they transpired. We know something horrible has happened, but we don't know exactly what until the film's end.

Strangely Delamont's psychosis, trying to adapt another human to thinks what he thinks and feels what he feels, does not venture into the sexual realm. He's not gay, though his project has a slightly feminine ring to it. (I suspect at least a few women out there would confess to trying to "make-over" some poor guy to their expectations.) Moreover, Delamont and Riviere do enter into a written contract together. As a result, A Matter of Taste plays at times like a twisted parody of a traditional man-woman marriage.

More overtly, though, the film is about class (the French are as obsessed with class as we are with sex and violence). During his off hours, Riviere spends time with his friends, who enjoy discussing class differences. His girlfriend Beatrice (Florence Thomassin) works in a newsstand knowing that she'll never be rich, but she enjoys the freedom nonetheless. She scorns her boyfriend's new suits and flashy car, given to him by Delamont as part of the "job."

So Delamont's re-casting Riviere in his own image becomes only one more way that the upper class stomp all over the lower class, the film seems to say. Still, I found the psychological implications of this story far more interesting than the social ones. The film reminds us of the recent hit With a Friend Like Harry (which is also about a kind of symbiosis), only A Matter of Taste more fully explores the horrors behind its hellish union.

In this light, A Matter of Taste can be viewed as a vicious and frightening black comedy, or even a thriller along the lines of With a Friend Like Harry. I can admit to being both thrilled and amused by its strange goings-on.

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