Friday, June 15, 2012

Le Chef (The Chef) ★ ★ ★★

Kindly Reviewed by John Richard

Release Dates

Australia:   14
th June
, 2012
Other Countries: Release Dates

Perth West Australian FilmGoers: Click here for Luna Palace Website session times


An established chef in an upmarket Paris restaurant is handicapped by the acting CEO of the company which owns the restaurant to make the chef lose a rating star. The loss of this one star will mean that the restaurant (Cargo Lagarde) comes under the full control of the holding company and the chef will lose both his employment contract and the apartment that comes with it.  Is this the premise for an entertaining and funny film?  Oh yes, it is!  Filled with many moments of smiles and as many of loud laughter, this French film starring Jean Reno and Michaël Youn entertains from start to fin.

Writer/Director Daniel Cohen takes us behind the scenes in several Paris restaurants to expose the frantic efforts to bring the clientele fine food, on time and with a minimum of fuss.  The story is often told that watching a swan glide through the water the observer is unaware of the frantic paddling beneath the surface which generates the swan’s journey.  This is what the film exposes us to as we witness the frantic efforts of the gaggle of chef’s in the kitchen.

Jackie Bonnot (Michaël Youn) is a well-trained and skilled young chef who cannot retain a job in a kitchen for more than a few days before he finds himself being marched out of the door over culinary differences.  His partner Beatrice (Raphaelle Agogue) is expecting their first child and is keeping them financially afloat.  After losing yet another job Jackie promises that he will take any job on offer.  He accepts a six month contract to paint the outside of a retirement home.

Elsewhere, Alexandre Lagarde (Jean Reno) is facing his own demons.  He is suffering the chef’s equivalent of writer’s block and cannot decide on his (required) upcoming new spring menu.  He relies on this to retain the critics’ support and the attendant star rating for his restaurant.  Lagarde faces the additional pressure of hosting his daily TV cooking show, avidly watched by millions of French women (and men presumably).  Fate steps in and Jackie and Lagarde join forces to attempt to salvage the situation.  At times more like combatants than allies they forge a relationship where each acknowledges the other’s skills and specialities.

Attempting to subvert Lagarde’s success, Stanislaw the acting head of the restaurant’s holding company sets out to torpedo every move Lagarde makes to save his reputation and his beloved restaurant.  Far from being contrived situations we witness the cut-throat initiatives by big business to globalise a franchise of up-market restaurants regardless of the effect this may have on the chefs or the restaurants’ clientele.

Clever writing and directing by Cohen seamlessly bring in several sub-plots which only serve to further entertain the audience.  Sympathy and empathy are evoked by the storyline and fine deliveries by the main protagonists.  The audience becomes immersed in both the ongoing struggle and the apparent failures of Lagarde and Jackie to achieve their objectives.  The supporting cast are without exception well cast and do not attempt to control anything more than their allotted parts.  Although the conclusion seems inevitable and predictable Cohen delivers a finale that leaves the audience both laughing and wanting more.

In recent years Jean Reno has entertained audiences as a tough guy in both Hollywood and French/European productions.  It is well worth remembering that Reno has had many previous outings in the comedy genre and has always delivered great performances earmarked by his impeccable comedic timing.  Michaël Youn, perhaps not as well-known as his famous co-star, has nevertheless entertained audiences in over 20 films and proves to be Reno’s equal in this fine French film.

Today few films deliver comedy in both the volume and quality that studio promoters want us to believe.  Often the humour is of the schoolboy type toilet humour interspersed with language that makes many audience members cringe.  Le Chef is genuinely funny and entertaining whilst providing the audience with an insight of the restaurant trade with all its foibles and petty squabbling.  With a running time of only 84 minutes this film proves that good writing, directing and editing can tell a story without having to resort to unnecessary padding.  All the parts of the story fit together perfectly and the audience is satisfied with the process of storytelling and the story itself.

Thank you to John Richard for this review.