Movie Review: “Tasting Menu” Is Wonderfully Reminiscent Of Robert Altman’s Naturalistic Style

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Review by James McDonald

As one of the world’s best restaurants opens for its final evening, a couple in the midst of a divorce who made their reservation a year ago, before separating, reunite for a once-in-lifetime meal.

Robert Altman was a film director who developed a multitrack recording technique which produced overlapping dialogue from multiple actors at the same time. Essentially, instead of cutting from one actor to another during a conversation, we could concentrate on one person at a time while listening to those surrounding them. Seems like a no-brainer for today’s movies and TV shows but back then, it was groundbreaking. Director Roger Gual must have been a big admirer of Altman’s because he employs the same technique in “Tasting Menu” and in doing so, he not only creates a wonderfully moving film with artistic taste, but introduces an assemblage of intriguing and dynamic characters and lets them intertwine their way through the film’s vivacious plot.

When one of the world’s greatest restaurants, situated in beautiful Catalonia in Spain, announces that it is closing its doors forever after fifteen successful years in business, the guests on the waiting list prepare themselves for the fact that they will be the last people to savor the establishment’s final meal. Marc (Jan Cornet) and Rachel (Claudia Bassols) made their reservation over a year ago but they have since divorced. They decide to go anyway, seeing that it is such a momentous occasion for the famous eatery. We also have Mar Vidal (Vicenta N’Dongo), the restaurant’s head chef and co-owner, the Countess (Fionnula Flanagan), curiously suspicious Walter (Stephen Rea) and an assortment of supplementary colorful and revelatory characters.

Sometimes in watching a movie, the director cuts away from one sub-plot to another and while this can be produced successfully, I can’t count the number of times where it was unsuccessful (cough, cough, “The Phantom Menace”, cough, cough). Thankfully, director Roger Gual understands the concept better than most and after he introduces us to each of the characters, he spends just the right amount of time with them before moving on and this becomes the process. Of course, Marc and Rachel pretend to each other that they are busy with their individual lives but in reality, they miss each other but neither will take that obligatory first step and admit it. Countess brings her late husband’s ashes along with her and while she loves to observe the lives of those around her, she feels drawn to Marc and Rachel.

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Chef Mar and her co-owner Max (Andrew Tarbet) are nervous as there are two competing investors who have just flown in from Japan who are interested in opening one of their restaurants there. They are guests for the evening but their interpreter couldn’t make it so they were given a young lady who can’t speak any Japanese who is more interested in her iPhone than in keeping company with them. As the evening advances, an old flame of Rachel’s turns up and a simple gesture becomes a huge misunderstanding. On top of that, Max is waiting for a friend of his to arrive in a boat filled with musicians so that everybody can enjoy their music along with the restaurant’s final dessert on the beach but when word gets out that the boat sank nearby, all of the guests decide to split up into groups to try and find the missing musicians, much to Max’s dismay.

What worked so wonderfully for me was that all of the characters were believable. Sometimes, you get that one person that is so outlandish and implausible, they take you right out of the film but here, although there are some that might be considered ‘atypical’, they never become so far-fetched or insane that they ruin the movie. There are some quieter intimate moments between characters which are to be expected but thankfully they never become overly melodramatic. Watching the bustling operations behind the scenes while the guests sat at their tables, comfortably and quietly, sipping wine, was a terrific parallel. The story and characters flowed as effortlessly as the wine and when the closing credits began to roll, I found myself wanting seconds. A gem of a movie.

In select theaters now

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James McDonald

Film/Theater Critic & Interviewer at Red Carpet Crash
Originally from Dublin, Ireland, James is a Movie Critic and Celebrity Interviewer with over 30 years of experience in the film industry as an Award-Winning Filmmaker.
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