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Flux Gourmet (2022) IMDB description: “Set at an institute devoted to culinary and alimentary performance, a collective finds themselves embroiled in power struggles, artistic vendettas, and gastrointestinal disorders.”
Why I took it off the list: Peter Strickland. The British director’s films have a unique vibe and uncommon vision that make all his efforts instant must-sees for me. Although an acquired taste for some, I find all his movies incredibly atmospheric, lushly shot, expertly edited, full of entertaining performances, and capped off with fantastic sound design and music.
Although he kicked off his career with the more straightforward revenge drama Katalin Varga (2009), his offbeat style quickly solidified with Berberian Sound Studio (2012), one of my favorite underrated films of the past couple of decades, and The Duke of Burgundy (2014), both confounding but highly individualistic works that defy easy genre assignation.
Strickland got perhaps as close to ‘mainstream’ as he had yet with In Fabric (2018), a film about a cursed dress that hewed closer to genre (comedy/horror) than many of his other films, but still maintained his obtuse, unsettling stylings. He seemed to be continuing along a similar route with his latest, Flux Gourmet (2022), so I was keen to check it off my list as soon as possible.
Review of Flux Gourmet (2022)
Like the majority of Peter Strickland’s films, Flux Gourmet seems to take place in a weird bubble full of anachronistic details and a warped sense of place and time and is populated with characters preoccupied with bizarre fixations and strangely mannered speech patterns.
Where The Duke of Burgundy focused on an eccentric group of aristocratic butterfly collectors seemingly sectioned off in their own little world, Flux Gourmet centers on another group of individuals isolated in a weird institute where they are encouraged to live out a fixation on their hobby/calling: in this case ‘sonic catering’.
Like the films of Lucile Hadzihalilovic or David Lynch, Strickland requires a degree of suspension of disbelief for you to get on his particular wavelength and invest. In this alternative universe, artists who make sweet music out of the cooking process (as Strickland actually did in his early career) are inexplicably treated like celebrated authors or rock stars.
True to Strickland’s form, Flux Gourmet features a large ensemble of incredibly eccentric characters thrust into a bizarre situation. In this case, most of them are hilariously entitled artists vying for attention and validation, which leads to some pretty hilarious satire to rival that of In Fabric and Berberian Sound Studio.
Fun Performances, Particularly from Christie and Mohamed
As with In Fabric, Strickland has assembled a fantastic ensemble of actors and gives them fun roles to play with. Gwendoline Christie is a perfect fit for the director of the ‘Institute of Interculinary Disciplines’, Jan Stevens. Christie plays her as a kind of sinister, snooty headmistress while gradually revealing more of her vulnerabilities as the film goes on.
Strickland gifts her some choice lines, a hilarious reoccurring hate of flanger pedals, and some of the most fabulous, increasingly outrageous getups among a wealth of opulent costumes in general.
Makis Papadimitriou is loveably downtrodden as the institute’s ‘dossier’ Stones, a man trying desperately to control his out-of-control flatulence. He also has a fantastically soothing voice which makes his all-Greek narration a welcome addition. His matter-of-fact delivery about absurd topics also provides some real comedy gold.
The MVP of the film, however, is Romanian actress and Strickland’s frequent collaborator Fatma Mohamed as Elle di Elle, the demanding and petulant leader of the ‘culinary collective’ currently in residence. As in In Fabric, she practically steals the whole film, and is at her best delivering an unending stream of catty put-downs like “I could have told you that one erection would never be enough for someone like her”.
A Feast for the Eyes and Ears
As is now the norm for Strickland’s films, Flux Gourmet boasts meticulously curated production and prop design to rival a Wes Anderson film, complete with retro-colored intertitles. Strickland’s fetish for outdated audio technology (and fetishistic love of extreme close-ups in general) also continues and works particularly well in this film.
Like all of his previous films, the sound design and editing are fantastic. Strickland always makes pleasingly surprising juxtapositions, and here gives plenty of food some unexpected associations (in particular, the making of an omelet gets a special new connotation here).
The music by Jeremy Barnes & Heather Trost (which sounds like Strickland’s previous collaborator, Broadcast, but isn’t) is used sparingly but adds to the dreamy atmosphere.
Although the film can be meandering and engagement starts to sag a little in the third act, Flux Gourmet remains inventive and visually surprising the whole way through.
The conclusion is abrupt and bizarre, but also kind of touching and fitting for this kind of story. It’s certainly much more straightforward and less cynical than some of his previous endings (Berberian Sound Studio in particular) – an upbeat retro pop song even plays over the end credits!
Final Score: 8/10
Flux Gourmet (2022): Worth Watching?
Yes. Ultimately Flux Gourmet is a familiar underdog story about a bunch of outcasts trying to find meaning and connection through a shared (although in this case, incredibly bizarre) activity. But it’s superbly acted, uniquely stylish, quite sweet in its own perverse way, and also pretty damn funny.
Flux Gourmet (2022)
Written and directed by Peter Strickland