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Bon Appétit (2010)

February 19, 2012 Leave a comment

No matter how young or old, we all like to think our lives will be best when we have stability. It’s a comforting delusion. The sad reality is that what happiness we have one minute may be lost the next through accident or on a whim. Or, put the other way, there could be little worse than unrelenting loneliness as the years go by. During the days of childhood and the teen years, the lack of experience means everything is fresh. This makes the highs and lows more extreme until we’re more confident about what we like and dislike. Once prejudices are established, it simplifies choices about what to do, where to go, who to share our lives with. As childhood ends, we begin to make choices about how we wish to live our lives. This will involve decisions about lifestyle as a compromise between parental wishes and peer group pressure, education and training for a career. Then we have all the problems of fitting into the adult world. We discover everyone has different ways of doing things. We learn quickly, adapt our own expectations and try to move forward with the approval of the authority figures. Perhaps, when the lucky children have a chance to look back, they will see the family home offered the most support and the best chances for a good life.

Nora Tschirner as the unattainable

 

So let’s assume a famous chef who runs a top class restaurant in Zurich. If we could work in such a place, we would be arriving at point close to the pinnacle of our profession as a chef or sommelier. This could be the stepping stone to running a restaurant of our own and establishing our name as one of the greats. Yet, in the adult world, there are pitfalls when another has a position in society and power over our life. Welcome to Bon Appétit (2010) where we meet Thomas (Herbert Knaup). It’s his restaurant. He recruits Hanna (Nora Tschirner) as a sommelier. She already has an educated nose and, under his expert guidance, she’s soon one of the best dispensers of wine in Zurich. Naturally, she’s grateful for the extra attention. They are soon sleeping together whenever he find an excuse for a few hours away from his wife. Despite their difference in age, she loves him and accepts the limitations of their relationship. Except this is a lonely life with only occasional evenings with Thomas. She therefore befriends Hugo (Guilio Berruti), the sous-chef in the restaurant. Both know the relationship can never go anywhere and, with a few brief flourishes where things go further, they remain platonic friends.

Unax Ugalde and Nora Tschirner have a moment when anything might be possible

 

Into this mix comes Daniel (Unax Ugalde) a talented chef from Spain. He’s immediately attracted to Hanna and rapidly transfers his affections from Eva, the girl he has left behind in Bilbao. Except, everything is theoretical. Hanna loves Thomas and Hugo is already the shoulder to cry on. Daniel is therefore low down in the pecking order, but there’s a possible way up. Thomas is planning a new restaurant in London. If Hugo went to run that kitchen, Daniel would get closer to Hanna. He begins to move slowly into position, cooking a meal for Hanna and “being there for her”. Unfortunately, everything comes grinding to a halt in everyone’s lives when Hanna announces her pregnancy. Not surprisingly Thomas is not in the mood to leave his wife. Hugo gets angry with Thomas, quits his job and leaves Daniel in the lead for transfer to London. Hanna returns to her native Hamburg. The question for us is who will decide to move, whether physically or romantically.

The kitchen crew at rest with sous-chef Guilio Berruti and leader Herbert Knaup on the left

 

All happiness is fragile. For those in power, it’s easy to exploit the ambitious and the more vulnerable. Careers are built on sucking up to the big-named celebrity and then cashing in on whatever opportunities come our way. It’s compensation for soaking up all the abuse as the underling. In sexual relationships, mistresses are there so long as they are convenient. If they refuse an abortion or represent a threat, they are dismissed. No-one should expect life to be fair even though all European countries have nondiscrimination and equality laws supposedly offering protection against harassment. It’s easier for the abused to quietly disappear.

 

Bon Appétit (2010) is an elegiac film exploring human weaknesses and dreams. It’s not really a romance. That would be too easy and unrealistic. People enter relationships but, as adults, they should understand whether it’s safe to rely on what the others say and do. The problem is our fear of loneliness. This creates a certain desperation and makes us vulnerable. It’s easy to dream about how much better our own lives would be if only the others around us would co-operate. Yet, selfishness can be destructive both to us and those others. As director and joint screen writer, David Pinillos has done an excellent job with this pan-European project. In particular, Daniel’s indecisiveness is beautifully captured by Unax Ugalde. He cannot move on Hanna before she announces her pregnancy because of her relationship with Thomas. To go after her later is to risk losing the chance to go to London. In terms of romance, it’s all dreams because Hanna has never given him any real hope. Commercially, Thomas obviously has little patience with anyone who fails to give him the support he believes he deserves in all aspects of his life. Such are the dilemmas that shape lives as we live with the consequences of our decisions.

 

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