Difficult to describe, not easily forgotten, "A Matter of Taste" lingers long after higher-profile films have come and gone. An elegant study of devious mind games and emotional perversion, it makes the strangest of psychological dynamics plausible and involving.
"Taste" is only the second feature for director Bernard Rapp, a top French television journalist. Co-written by Rapp with fine screenwriter Gilles Taurand ("Dry Cleaning," Andre Techine's "The Wild Reeds," among others), the film was nominated for five Cesars, the French Oscars, including best picture, best actor and best screenplay.
Rapp's background does not include extensive work with actors, but it is the strong and complementary performances of his two leads, the veteran Bernard Giraudeau and the younger Jean-Pierre Lorit (featured in Claude Sautet's "Nelly & Monsieur Arnaud" and Krzysztof Kieslowski's "Red") that energize this depiction of a provocative relationship. "A Matter of Taste's" opening sequences let us know that the connection between these men has ended badly. A somber magistrate (appropriately severe Truffaut veteran Jean-Pierre Leaud) is investigating, and most of the film consists of the magistrate's questions and flashbacks examining the nature of that unusual bond.
It's the merest chance that brings Nicolas Riviere (Lorit) and Frederic Delamont (Giraudeau) together. A handsome ne'er-do-well with a history of odd jobs, including one as a department store Santa, Nicolas is temporarily working as a waiter in a swank Parisian restaurant when a demanding customer asks him to precisely identify the ingredients in a troublesome appetizer.
The customer turns out to be the head of Delamont International, a powerful and wealthy tycoon with all the toys money can buy, from a private jet to a celebrated personal chef (Charles Berling).Yet there is a lack in his life, a lack he may not be able to put his finger on but that he senses Nicolas can fill.
Something passes between these two men, even at that first meeting. It's not any conventional form of attachment, for though there is a fascinating homoerotic component to all this, it's completely unspoken and never comes to the surface. It's rather that they immediately realize just the kind of devilish games they can play with each other. Cobra and mongoose, they warily circle each other without completely realizing or acknowledging the gambits they are engaged in.
Living happily with his free-spirited girlfriend Beatrice (Florence Thomassin) in a large communal apartment, Nicolas is flattered and curious when Delamont wants to hire him as a "personal advisor to the CEO," a job that includes tailored clothes and a car as well as a handsome salary.
Always on the make, Nicolas wants to test himself, to see how far things will go and how much he can get out of the situation. What Delamont wants, however, is rather more complex.
Initially the job calls for, of all things, a taster, someone who will sit with the tycoon at business meals and be on the lookout for traces of the foods he is fiercely allergic to. For all his wealth, Delamont is, Howard Hughes-like, a prisoner of his phobias--he fears germs, hates crowded elevators, despises fish and cheese, etc.
Delamont is also a master at playing head games and the instigator of a very particular kind of seduction. What he seems to want is to create not just an alter ego but a genuine duplicate of himself, a mirror image who will feel his feelings, experience his sensations, in effect be himself inside of another person.
Convincing acting is obviously critical for a gambit like this to succeed. Lorit is excellent as the underling, but what raises this film to another level is the remarkable performance of Giraudeau as the manipulative Delamont, an unsettling and even creepy combination of warmth and distance, iciness and affection, a performance that works on us as the character's personality works on Nicolas.
The most striking thing about "A Matter of Taste" is that while we intuitively understand the nature of the Delamont-Nicolas relationship, its essence is surprisingly resistant to being put into words. In the same way, both men embrace their psychic link wholeheartedly without being able to satisfactorily define it, even to themselves. It's that peculiar, and that truly alive.
Unrated. Times guidelines: adult subject matter.
'A Matter of Taste'
Bernard Giraudeau: Frederic Delamont
Jean-Pierre Lorit: Nicolas Riviere
Florence Thomassin: Beatrice
Charles Berling: Rene Rousset
Jean-Pierre Leaud: Magistrate
An Attitude Films/TLA releasing presentation, released by Attitude Films. Director Bernard Rapp. Producers Catherine Dussart, Chantal Perrin. Screenplay Gilles Taurand & Bernard Rapp, based on the novel by Philippe Balland. Cinematographer Gerard de Battista. Editor Juliette Welfling. Costumes Martine Rapin. Music Jean-Philippe Goude. Production design Francois Comtet. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.
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