Review: Ambition, food and sex, cooked to near perfection, flavor savory ‘A Taste of Hunger’

A woman and a man embrace in the movie “A Taste of Hunger”
Katrine Greis-Rosenthal and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in the movie “A Taste of Hunger.”
(Henrik Ohsten/Magnolia Pictures)

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In Danish filmmaker Christoffer Boe’s foodie drama “A Taste of Hunger,” the world of fine-dining, and the quest for a highly-coveted Michelin star, is presented as a stylish, high-stakes thriller laced with eroticism and subterfuge. Co-written with Tobias Lindholm, “A Taste of Hunger” is set in Copenhagen, which boasts 26 Michelin-starred restaurants, including two, Noma and Geranium, which have earned the rare three Michelin stars.

A product of the famed tire company, the Michelin guide was started in the early 20th century as a simple road map and restaurant guide to encourage French drivers to explore their country by automobile (and thus buy more tires). They started awarding restaurants star ratings, and now the Michelin guide has evolved into a sort of Academy Awards of the food world, making or breaking a restaurant with splashy announcements of their annual star ratings. It’s the drive to achieve a Michelin star that bonds, and almost breaks, Maggie (Katrine Greis-Rosenthal) and Carsten (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), an ambitious couple who have invested everything in their restaurant, Malus.


“A Taste of Hunger” is structured in intertwining storylines. One takes place over a night in which Maggie and Carsten are thrown into personal and professional chaos after they believe a diner sent by Michelin was served over-fermented lemons while they weren’t in the kitchen. Maggie hits the streets of Copenhagen trying to track down this mystery diner, her journey complicated by a spurned lover, Frederik (Charlie Gustafsson), who manipulates the situation for his own benefit.

This night is intersected by a series of flashbacks divided into chapters named after different elements of flavor and cooking, “Sweet,” “Sour,” “Fat,” “Heat.” The scenes detail how and why the couple find themselves in the mess of this evening, starting with their meet-cute at a house party that Carsten is catering. We see how their shared dream of a Michelin star is what brought them together, especially Maggie’s belief in Carsten, and her own personal drive. But ultimately, it’s that ambition that eclipses all else, and starts to erode their marriage.

One of the most exciting elements of “A Taste of Hunger” is the over-the-top style that Boe and cinematographer Manuel Alberto Claro bring to the film. When Maggie and Carsten are vibrating on the same creatively energetic wavelength, there’s an almost ostentatious, yet thrilling blend of pink and blue lighting, which runs the gamut from hot pink and violet, to crimson and navy, to coral and teal. This almost operatic approach to lighting isn’t just refreshingly vivid and visually striking, it adds to the narrative and emotional drama, especially as the story drifts to Maggie’s perspective, as she attempts to balance her professional ambition, her family and her infidelities.

A third-act twist takes the story too far into soapy, melodramatic territory. It’s an overwrought narrative flourish that stretches the limits of believability and isn’t entirely necessary. But Greis-Rosenthal delivers a fantastic and fierce performance as Maggie, and it’s impossible to take your eyes off of her, even when she shares the frame with Coster-Waldau. Thanks to her compelling screen presence, and Boe’s dramatically dazzling aesthetic, “A Taste of Hunger” is a delectable cinematic treat, one that deserves to be savored.

Katie Walsh is a Tribune News Service film critic.

‘A Taste of Hunger’

In Danish with English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes

Playing: Starts Jan. 28, Laemmle Royal, West L.A.; Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena