Delicious, by Albert W. Vogt III

There is nothing like watching a French film to remind you how far you still have to go in learning that language.  A few years back, in my ongoing desire to learn new things, I decided to begin learning French.  In the intervening years, it became a tool for a planned trip to Paris with my dad.  That has yet to happen, as has my mastery of the language.  Could I have watched Delicious (2021) without the subtitles?  Yes, though I would have been understanding maybe half of what was being said.  Perhaps I should have kept them off in hindsight.  I like to give myself challenges, and this would have been fitting.  At the same time, I take the reviews I write for you seriously, and I did not want to miss anything.  On the whole, I am glad I used the linguistic crutch because, like the many delectable dishes you see prepared in the film, it is a rich experience.

Though Delicious is usually an adjective, in this case it is a noun.  It refers to a special tarte made by Pierre Manceron (Grégory Gadebois), stuffed with potatoes and truffles.  He is the personal cook of the Duke of Chamfort (Benjamin Lavernhe), and it is 1789.  Though Pierre has been warned not to be inventive with his dishes, his talents demand that he can show what he can do.  The resulting feast goes over well with the duke’s guests until one of their number, a priest (of course), singles out the “delicious.”  Calling it unfit for a nobleman’s table, the tide of opinion swiftly turns against Pierre as he stands before them.  When Pierre refuses the duke’s request to apologize, he is dismissed from his employment. Without further ado, he and his son, Benjamin (Lorenzo Lefèbvre), leave the duke’s castle and return to their humble roots.  Their destination is a rundown roadside inn in which their old friend Jacob (Christian Bouillette) lives.  He invites them to stay and make a go of it there, though Pierre’s heart is not really into it.  Nonetheless, travelers on the nearby road begin showing up, and the Mancerons attend to them.  One of their earliest customers is a woman going by the name Louise (Isabelle Carré).  She is not the typical person passing through, but rather has specifically come to this place in order to apprentice herself to Pierre.  At first, Pierre is not willing.  He says he has given up cooking, and besides, women do not belong in the kitchen.  She is persistent, though, and eventually persuades Pierre to take her on.  Part of her pitch is to get Pierre cooking once more.  By doing so, it will keep his reputation alive, and eventually the duke will come to his senses and ask Pierre to return to the castle.  This seems about to happen, too, when the duke’s messenger, Hyacinthe (Guillaume de Tonquédec), brings word that the duke would like Pierre to prepare a feast for him at the inn.  After a great deal of labor, which also results in Pierre burning his hands and Jacob being crushed to death by wine caskets, the duke’s carriage rudely passes by without stopping.  In both the preparation and the aftermath, we learn that Louise has not been truthful about her identity.  She is not the reformed whore she claims, but rather the disgraced Marquise de la Verne.  She blames the duke for ruining her husband and eventually having him killed.  Hence, she came to Pierre in order to get close to the duke to kill him, in this case planning to poison the food.  Pierre takes this all as a double betrayal, and as so many unfortunately do, proceeds to get roaring drunk.  This leads to him having an accident.  Louise, who had been sent away, stops when she sees his fall and nurses him back to health.  When he recovers, she and Benjamin, who is enthralled by the egalitarian ideals of the coming French Revolution, proposes that instead of catering to the duke, they open their inn to anyone who comes along.  Pierre agrees, and soon they have a going concern serving travelers and passers-by who hear of the famous chef cooking in the area and seek to have a fine meal.  Things are going well until Hyacinthe stops in one day with news of the duke.  Hyacinthe would recognize Louise, and bring a lot of trouble for Pierre.  Not wanting to do so, she leaves.  Once more, Pierre is melancholy.  As a result, his cooking suffers and fewer people begin coming to dine at his establishment.  It takes Benjamin giving his dad a sort of pep talk to get him to come to his senses.  In doing so, he comes up with a plan.  His first move is to go to the duke under the pretext of apologizing for his past mistake.  His next request is that the duke come to dine at the inn.  The duke agrees on the condition that Pierre close the place down because his culinary arts, in the duke’s eyes, are not to be consumed by the rabble.  The next step for Pierre is to go to Louise, who has taken shelter in a monastery with an order of nuns.  He tells her that he needs her because his cooking is not the same without her, and that he has something special in mind for the duke.  The appointed day comes and the duke and his mistress, the Marquise de Saint-Genet (Marie-Julie Baup), arrive.  So, too, do a load of other commoners, much to the duke’s horror.  They are also served the “delicious,” once more to the duke’s shock.  When he begins to threaten Pierre, Louise steps in and says she will expose the duke’s wrongdoing to the king.  Properly cowed, the duke and his mistress leave, though apparently not poisoned.  This leaves Pierre and Louise to live on serving their customers.

I enjoyed Delicious immensely.  It is a historical piece, to be sure, but it is not something that overwhelms the narrative.  I would not have minded that, of course, but I am in the minority of people who think that history is not boring.  One thing I did not appreciate, though, is the priest at the beginning.  It is an obvious dig at the clergy.  He is made to be a hypocrite, talking about the dangers of gluttony while also enjoying a sumptuous feast.  It makes sense for the time and place, but it gets my Catholic dander up.  What is more pleasing to my Catholic sensibilities are Louise’s actions.  Granted, she did have murder on the mind.  Revenge is not something with which to trifle, Biblically speaking.  Still, she admits to how difficult it is to actually kill someone, how hard of a decision it is, no matter how much you think they deserve it.  It is a sin as deadly as gluttony, as our Faith will tell you.  What I like best is when she decides to take refuge with the nuns. This is something that many women did throughout history, and I wish more people did it today.  Indeed, the raison d’etre(there is some French for you) for many female religious orders was to provide a haven for women in need.  Either way, it is a far better decision than actually going through with murder, which I initially thought was her aim when she left Pierre.  While she did ultimately get even with the duke through public humiliation, at least she did so without getting blood on her hands.

If any of this interests you, you can find Delicious on Amazon Prime.  There is no shame in using subtitles, though I know that sometimes annoys people.  It does for me, which is why I typically have them off.  There are moments in it that require no words, like the veritable still paintings that mark transitions at different points in the film.  As such, even if you do not want the subtitles, it is a pretty movie to watch.  That is worth something, and you can watch it without worrying about any objectionable material.

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