In his big first appearance, Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes), the film’s central character The menu, Available on Disney+ and Star+, makes two things clear. The first, that the dinner that will be tasted next, is the result of months of work. It is not just about food, but an experience that must include the reaction of diners to be complete.
The second, that he is the absolute owner of everything that happens in his restaurant. A dictator dressed in a fine white apron who can even decide on the life and death of all those in charge of him.
The premise of Mark Mylod’s feature film is shockingbut by no means new. During a good part of its history, the cinema used cuisines and delicacies to narrate the human being better and more punctually. By using as central element the primitive instinct of feeding, a multitude of arguments ask frontal questions about identity. But also, as in The menuwhich food can symbolize as it is the core of natural and even unspeakable appetites.
The fear between foods in other productions beyond The menu
A good example of the above is the film The hole, by Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia. In the story, platforms loaded with food descend through multiple levels, testing the mental stamina of starving hostages.
In the same way as in The menu, edibles are not attractive or appetizing, but hooks to drag those who will eat them to dark places. On the other hand, in the terrifying Deli, by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, eating is a moral decision. A temptation to fall into can turn the characters into real monsters.
In the same thread, okjaby Joon-ho Bong, poses food as a spiritual dilemma. How far can we admit animal suffering for culinary pleasure? Although no restaurant appears in the film — not directly — the message is clear. Gastronomy can become a symbol to analyze our desires. At least, at what cost do we satisfy most of them.
Without being a chef, Hannibal Lecter is also a representation of food as an object of power. The most famous serial killer in pop culture isn’t just a cannibal. He too — both in the movie version of him and in the iconic series — he’s a foodie.
The combination turns the character’s hunger into a terrifying psychological place, just as it does with The menu. For the history of cinema, one of the final sequences of Hannibal by Ridley Scott. In it, the character cooks the brain of a man while he is still alive. A moment that took the perception of disgusting to a new level.
Love and cooking also have a place
However, contrary to what seems to suggest The menu, the great culinary stages are more than just a center of horrors. In A ten meter journey, by Lasse Hallström, a renowned restaurant expert understands the meaning of sensitive eating. A concept directly linked to the fact of gastronomic preparation as something happy.
In the Mexican classic Like water for Chocolate, by Alfonso Arau, the kitchen is the only refuge for Tita (Lumi Cavazos). As well as a space where she can literally transmute food into magic. The film, somewhat in tune with The menu In this sense, it plays with elements that turn the process of preparing dishes into an ancestral ritual. Of course, on this occasion one is capable of invoking memory, pain and love in ways as direct as carnal.
A premise that of course ratatouille, by Brad Bird, takes it to its finest. The story of a rat with a formidable talent for cooking is one of the most curious of Pixar. At the same time, the one with one of the most endearing scenes in the studio’s filmography.
When food critic Anton Ego (voiced by Peter O’Toole) tastes the titular dish, the first bite takes him back in time. But it is not only about the memory that he evokes. The image takes a trip down memory lane that makes him rediscover the emotional sense of gastronomic art.
The delicious idea of eating to remember
In chocolate, another film by director Lasse Hallström, confectionery has an essential value. Vianne Rocher (Juliette Binoche) can understand the aches and pains of her clients through how they taste this sweet delicacy.
It is a concept related to mystery and a common thread through sensuality and carnality. In the end, the production is a collection of memories — singular and sensitive — of curious importance.
ANDnJulie & Julia, by Nora Ephron, an essential cookbook in American culinary culture unites two women through time. But, more than that, turns tasting and the pleasure of eating into teachings.
There is considerable generosity in how the film links the life of Julie (Amy Adams) with that of well-known Julia Childs to create a single scenario. At the same time, in how it makes clear the role of food as an inheritance that is passed down from generation to generation.
On the other side of the kitchen door, what hides The menu
The menu, by Mark Mylod, links the codes of horror cinema with a very refined social mockery. However, his greatest interest is not wallowing in fear of a heartless chef’s unfortunate diners.
The film’s story takes unusual places about our conception of eating. What is actually the act of sitting at the table? A cultural conversation or a symbol of luxury that has little or nothing to do with the physical sensation of tasting?
The answers to those questions are found in the final sequences of the film. In them, Margot (Anya Taylor Joy) munches with delight on a simple hamburger. Among dozens of dishes prepared to amaze, terrify and send twisted messages, the metaphor carries considerable weight.
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Food is part of what we consider valuable. A deep sense of memories and the elements that make up individuality. An apparently simple idea that has power.
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‘The menu’, the last piece in the gastronomic tour of the cinema