Although food and travel are our two of our favorite activities, cinema is another other activity that enriches our lives. We watch films at home on HBO and Netflix and occasionally we go to a local multiplex, but our favorite way to enjoy movies is as long-time members of the Philadelphia Film Society. We’re members at a level that gets us invited to every screening, more than 50 throughout the year. We get to see all kinds of films – independent films, foreign films, documentaries and blockbusters – before they are released to the masses. Plus, we get all-access badges to the annual 10-day Philadelphia Film Festival, and we usually see 20+ movies during each festival. We’re spoiled, and we enjoy it.
We like most types of movies, but we have a special affinity toward movies that integrate our passions of travel and/or food. Just recently, we got to see a movie at the annual film festival that hit three of our buttons – cinema, food and France. “Step Up to the Plate” (unfortunately translated from the more authentic French title “Entre les Bras”, is a year-long multi-generational study of chefs in France’s Aubrac region. The film documents three star Michelin chefs Michel Bras (the father) and Sébastien Bras (the son) and the transition of their groundbreaking Bras restaurant in the gorgeous French countryside town of Laguiole . Although both father and son are highly driven culinary geniuses, they also live their lives with passion and a joie de vivre. There are actually four generations, as Michel’s mother originally opened the restaurant, and Sébastien’s young children are now learning the family trade. As food lovers, we were hooked by the opening montage which showed the construction of their famous dish, le gargouillou de jeunes légumes – leaf by leaf, ingredient by ingredient, element by element. Beautiful.
Step Up to the Plate reminded us of “Jiro Dreams of Sushi“, a screening we saw earlier this year. That documentary profiles Jiro Ono, an 85-year old master sushi chef with a meticulous eye for detail who runs a 10-seat sushi bar, Sukiyabashi Jiro, nestled underground near a Tokyo subway station. He too is a three star chef in the process of transitioning responsibilities to his son. However, unlike Michel Bras, Jiro conducts his life in a vacuum – a single-minded devotion to raw fish perfection. There certainly is passion, but it is completely dedicated to the restaurant. Jiro seems to be content to live his life in a stationary world of local, focused routines. We got to vicariously experience the restauranteur’s day from going to the fish market to setting the menu to preparing the food to the final presentation. The movie provided no evidence that Jiro travels the world and experiences the occasional flights of hedonism like we see with the Bras family. However, the story and food visuals transfixed us as we were provided a vignette of Jiro’s life, culture and extraordinary craft. The movie inspired us to partake in a sushi meal immediately after leaving the theatre. Of course, that sushi was a pale comparison to Jirosan’s, but it satisfied our craving.
We were also reminded of a film that we saw at the 2010 film festival – “Kings of Pastry“. This documentary isn’t about a father and son; rather, it documents 16 French pastry chefs competing at the prestigious Meilleurs Ouvriers de France in Lyon, France. This movie is also about passion, but this passion plays out in the world of food dessert competition where the pressure of professional excellence reduces the most accomplished chefs to tears. Perhaps this film planted the seeds of our desire to visit Lyon. Perhaps our recent visit was just a coincidence.
Either way, it’s pretty awesome when our favorite activities collide at the movie theater!