A Chef In Love

on April 23, 1997 by Dale Winogura
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Disappointinly diffuse and under-realized, this year's Georgian foreign-language Oscar entry lacks the emotion and consistency to tie together its disparate narrative threads. With a strange mix of sweet comedy and sour drama, writer Irakli Kvirikadze fails to developcharacters and episodes meaningfully, but there are moments of genuine charm and droll humor that unfortunately become fewer as the film unwinds.
In a robust yet disciplined performance, Pierre Richard is the film's most delightful asset as a middle-aged French gourmet chef in the 1920s whose passionate affair with a younger Georgian woman (a radiant and spontaneous Nino Kiradze) turns into tragic melodrama when the Red Army invades his restaurant. Told back and forth in time, from the chef's grown son (an adept Jean-Yves Gautier) reading his father's memoirs in 1995, the story lacks dramatic contrast or thematic significance.
An obvious attempt to celebrate life and good food is constantly undermined by director Nana Dzhordzhadze's wavering tone and unfocused cinematic progression. At her best, she manages several delicately lyrical scenes, such as the chef's artful preparation of a sumptuous dinner that makes "Babette's Feast" look like an appetizer. But the grating intrusion of rude military stereotypes and evil Communist caricatures make the threat to the lovers' survival trivial. A lusty but discreet sexuality between the two principals, and their earthy and spirited chemistry, are most successful, yet the rambling from one disassociated scene to the next prevents their relationship from taking a firm hold. The unique Georgian comedy style proves too arch to elevate a cold intellectual sensibility at the film's core. The artistic intentions were honest and well-meaning, but the execution falls short. Starring Pierre Richard, Nino Kirtadze and Jean-Yves Gautier. Directed by Nana Dzhordzhadze. Written by Irakli Kvirikadze. Produced by Marc Ruscart. A Sony Classics release. Comedy/drama. French- and Georgian-language; English subtitles. Rated PG-13 for nudity, sexual situations and some images of violence. Running time: 98 min.
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