I only counted one audible fart in “Flux Gourmet,” which seems like a curious show of restraint for a film in which sound and scatology play such a large role. A wonderfully demented study in creative, sexual and gastrointestinal struggle, this latest comedy-horror art from Hungary-based English filmmaker Peter Strickland is set at the Sonic Catering Institute, a higher education fortress devoted to ” artistic pursuit of food and culinary salvation. It’s fun, haughty language for a group of performance artists who stick microphones into pots and pans, amplifying the sounds of bubbling stew, sizzling oil, and whirring kitchen appliances (and sometimes smearing sticky and sticky foods on their body).
But then, the union of high and low, of sensation and intellect, has always been at the heart of Strickland’s own obsessions. For the better part of a decade, he was a mischievously inventive B-movie pastiche, paying elaborate homage to long-neglected horror subgenres in ‘Berberian Sound Studio’ (2012) and ‘In Fabric’ (2018). ), and investing the fleshy delights of old-school European eroticism with a romantic soul in “Le Duc de Bourgogne” (2014). His connection to the artists of “Flux Gourmet” – or “irresponsible faux provocateurs”, as one character describes them – is particularly personal. (Strickland himself performed for many years with the Sonic Catering Band, whose food-based electronic music forms a large part of the film’s soundtrack.)
The trio of artists here selected for a prestigious three-week residency at the institute form a culinary collective whose deep internal dysfunction comes down to their inability to find a name. But their individual nicknames are pretty clever, starting with their stubborn leader, Elle di Elle (get it?), who is played by the sublime commander Fatma Mohamed, a Strickland regular. She bickers a lot with her more genial bandmates, Billy Rubin (Asa Butterfield) and Lamina Propria (Ariane Labed), punk-rock technicians who manipulate the microphones while their fearless frontman writhes onstage in all his naked glory and coated with sauce.
But Elle’s most vicious spats are with the institute’s overbearing director, Jan Stevens (an extremely frosty Gwendoline Christie), who, as the group’s wealthy patron, insists on maintaining a level of creative input. . As their tensions escalate, “Flux Gourmet” becomes a wicked satire of feedback and repression, organizational tyranny and artistic challenge. Is she an uncompromising visionary or a kid against the grain? Is Jan Stevens (as she’s always known) making a reasonable request or is she channeling her inner movie studio philistine? According to the concept premises, this one is as rich and meaty as Boeuf Bourguignon, even though several of the characters are strictly vegetarians. (But not vegans, judging by Billy’s unsettling egg fetish.)
There are others in the mix, including a disgruntled gang of culinary terrorists; various fans lining up backstage for some hot, heavy groupie sex; and a sneering gastroenterologist played by Richard Bremmer, who you might remember as the masturbating wizard from “In Fabric.” (Otherwise, you must not have seen “In Fabric.”) Meanwhile, as their residency progresses, Elle, Billy, and Lamina are photographed and interviewed by the institute’s in-house columnist, Stones (a The soulful, sad-eyed Makis Papadimitriou), who also serves as the film’s narrator. Stones is a friendly guide; he also suffers from a severe inflammation of the intestine which makes it increasingly difficult for him to carry out his professional duties. Suffocating flatulence is a full-time job, and he does it very well.
It’s telling that, even if Strickland stages something as extravagant as a public colonoscopy, he refuses to milk Stones’ condition for easy ridicule. (He’s not interested in farts for farts’ sake.) Instead, he encourages our empathy with a man’s intense embarrassment and anxiety — overly related feelings that Stones attempts to dismiss. to exorcise, at some point, by placing one’s own body and excretions on the altar of art. Like David Cronenberg’s recent ‘Crimes of the Future’, in which major surgery becomes a public spectacle, ‘Flux Gourmet’ engages performance art through an intensely corporeal prism. And much like Cronenberg – albeit in a more cheerful and less apocalyptic tone – Strickland may want to disgust you a bit, but he also wants you to reflect, and even marvel, at the imaginative rigor and density of the world. that he created.
To put it another way: as much comedy as Strickland extracts from Elle and the self-seriousness of his castmates, he also takes them completely seriously. (It also clearly adores its actors; while Christie and Mohamed get the biggest laughs, Papadimitriou, Butterfield and especially Labed exude deep reserves of melancholy from characters that could have done for a one-note parody.) Watching these performers workshop a grocery store—stock up on pantomime—or perform gluttonous stunts straight out of “Top Chef: Salò”—you might see your initial laughter give way to fascination, or even appreciation. If it’s satire, it’s satire so generously attentive to its targets that mockery and love become virtually indistinguishable.
This is a big testament to the skill and commitment of Strickland’s collaborators, especially production designer Fletcher Jarvis and costume designers Saffron Cullane and Emily Newby, who are all on the director’s beautifully grotesque wavelength. . A fetishist par excellence, Strickland likes to dwell on surfaces and textures, and in “Flux Gourmet” he offers a sonic and visual feast in which food itself is relentlessly scrutinized, even defamiliarized. In one scene, he films a huge bread spread out in close-up so disorienting that the buns and pastries come to resemble alien organs; in another he considers the illusory properties of a certain dessert. Everything is in bad taste. It’s also delicious.
(In English and Greek with English subtitles)
Operating time: 1 hour 51 minutes
Playing: Begins June 24 On Demand and at Frida Cinema, Santa Ana; Laemmle Glendale