STEP UP TO THE PLATE
In 2009, Michel Bras, at the head of a restaurant in the heart of the Aubrac region, with 3 stars in the Michelin Guide, decides to hand over to his son Sébastien who has been working with him for 15 years. A father and his son; both at a crucial time in their careers. Is it possible to pass on one's life's work? Is it easy for a son to make a name for himself?
Review by Louise Keller:
Like an artist standing at his easel, the image of Sebastien Bras alone in a kitchen, creating his piece de resistance, is a solitary one. The textures and flavours that he creates for his pathway from savoury to sweet are varied, using milk curd, fried bread, butternut spaghetti, cheese, blackberry jelly, chocolate, cheese, sweet herbs and garnishes. The result is unique: an aesthetic concoction that bears the flourish of the artist's brush and culinary skill besides.
Paul Lacoste's documentary about the gastronomic lifestyle of the Bras family, as acclaimed chef Michel Bras figuratively passes the baton to his oldest son Sebastien, offers a soupçon of the essence of what the family represents and how they tick. Reminiscent of Hugh Jackman, Sebastien has charisma in spades. Through the prism of the four seasons in the South of France in regional Laguiole, it is a tranquil experience as three generations interact and follow the allure of haute cuisine. As a family portrait, the film is filled with revelations; as a film about artistic culinary endeavours, it is a delicate banquet.
Watching Sebastien's grandmother spreading her home made blackberry jelly on a thick slice of bread and carefully placing thin triangles of Laguiole cheese on top, it is easy to see where he got his inspiration. Just like the toque that he wore as a youngster, when helping in his father's kitchen, Sebastian's young son Alban wears his proudly as he chops vegetables to his father's instructions. The juxtaposition of Alban, still wearing his chef's hat playing drums, while his mother on piano plays The Girl From Ipanema and sister on guitar is incongruous indeed.
The film explores the men beyond their reputations in the world of fine cuisine, where Michelin Stars are priceless diamonds on a dark and starless night. I was interested to watch the considered response that Michel offers when tasting Sebastien's new culinary creation. He takes his time examining the aesthetic of the dish, followed by a cautious, measured approach when offering his opinion. This is contrasted by Sebastien's intuitive, immediate reaction to his grandmother's cooking.
The scenes at the Bras Restaurant in Japan, when Sebastien creates a Japanese version of his dish using Japanese ingredients are a fascinating contrast to the typically French setting at Le Suquet. In Paris, he conducts a cooking exhibition and invites his audience to take a closer look as the shutters of cameras close in quick succession.
This is not a traditional film about foodies. It is far more subtle than that. Through a menu of interviews and photographs, it is an artistic exploration: we get a sense of the history and traditions of the close-knit Bras family. There's a rhythm to the life in the country where man is at one with nature. The leaf-shaped restaurant plates and platters reflect nature and the cuisine makes the most of the local ingredients, using creativity and imagination to make it not only appetising but a work of art. The closing credits roll over a tantalising mass of bubbling chocolate. A delicious conclusion to a rich and satisfying encounter.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
As the filmmakers take us through the clearly defined four seasons of the year, we meet the Bras family - not just Michel and his son Sébastien but all of them, across three or four generations. The film attempts to tell the story of father Michel handing over his restaurant business to son Sébastien, but it makes a botch of it.
Looking more like a home video in terms of what is shot and how it's edited together, the film seems to have been made for the family and close friends, with no consideration for a wider audience. I would have swapped the long and boring scenes of Michel jogging, then Sébastien jogging, or the men surveying the landscape (lovely views, though) for some sense of their business. I would have swapped the tight close ups (not driven by emotional resonance) for a stronger sense of the underlying story.
I was yearning for revealing interviews about the trade, about succession and about the traditions of cooking. Instead, it is peppered with a few lazy interviews with the central figures and parents that simply add to the film's lack of focus. The attention to selective bits of dish making is out of context and seems entirely arbitrary - while the twinkling piano becomes annoying.
My expectations were clearly not met.
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STEP UP TO THE PLATE (G)
Entre Les Bras
CAST: Documentary featuring Michel and Sébastien Bras
PRODUCER: Didier Creste
DIRECTOR: Paul Lacoste
SCRIPT: Not credited
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Yvan Quehec
EDITOR: Anthony Brinig
MUSIC: Not credited
PRODUCTION DESIGN: n/a
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Curious Films
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 29, 2012