Step Up to the Plate
Details: (G), 90 mins, In Cinemas 29 November 2012, France,
Synopsis: An important transition takes place for celebrated chef Michel Bras and his legendary three-Michelin Star hotel-restaurant. Born and raised in the picturesque Aubrac region of central southern France, Michel started his career in the kitchen of his parents' inn before taking over the business and winning his stars. His dishes, including signature dish Le Gargouillou – an assemblage of 40 to 60 vegetables, herbs, leaves and flowers – reflect the produce of the region and the changing seasons. Now the time has come to hand over the reins to his son, Sébastien, who has worked alongside his father for 15 years.
A tasty insight into the end of an era.
Patrons should be warned to eat heartily prior to viewing this film lest your hunger pains prove crippling mid-session.
SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL:
Director Paul Lacoste has clearly taken the culinary style of his
subjects as his own artistic template. Like the dishes for which
legendary father-son chefs, Michel Bras and Sébastian Bras are famous, Step Up to the Plate is an elegantly simple work, yet softly layered and richly rewarding.
Michel Bras has been one of the leading international chefs for several decades. He is renowned for creating exquisite presentations from the produce of his ancestral home, in the Aubrac region of south France; his signature dish, a salad plate (that meagre description hardly suffices) is comprised of dozens of different vegetables, leaves, herbs and flowers called Le Gargouillou. It is world famous and its composition is beautifully captured in Lacoste’s documentary for time immemorial.
Michel is on the verge of retirement and his son, the equally talented but individualistic Sébastian, is about to take over the family business. Over the course of Michel’s final year in charge (the passage of time captured by seasonal title-cards), Lacoste follows the men as they prepare for the transition of responsibility.
There is plenty of kitchen footage, of course; patrons should be warned to eat heartily prior to viewing this film lest your hunger pains prove crippling mid-session. But the underlying drama of Step Up to the Plate is in watching the intricate hierarchal psychology play out within the context of a family business that is generations old. Lacoste, making his factual feature debut, examines the legacy of gastronomic prowess, of the Bras’ heritage and connection to the land and its customs. Interviews with Michel’s elderly parents offer forceful opinion on the recipes of the multi-generational Bras boys; Sébastian’s own son, not yet 10 years old, is seen being home-schooled in the kitchen, just as his forefathers were.
It would have been a more rounded film if the influence of Michel’s and Sébastian’s wives were integrated more fully. Both are afforded perfunctory screen time and it is only vaguely suggested that these two strong-willed women played any significant role in their husband’s success. An extended sequence that follows the men to Japan for a teaching engagement is interesting but overlong (we learn that great chefs are bad at karaoke, too). Also a shortcoming is some heavy-handed symbolism employed for a largely-wordless sequence in which Michel is seen watching the sun setting as some ‘young bulls’ in a nearby paddock eye him off.
Those shortcoming s aside, the essence of the journey and the strength of the two key personalities stays potent throughout. The fading into legend of Michel and the emergence of a new force in Sébastian, structured within the complexities of the paternalistic dynamic, makes for enriching, compelling drama. That it also becomes a testament to the mercurial touch of a food-making maestro is really just the icing on the cake.
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