Film Fridays: Haute Cuisine

Haute Cuisine (based on the true story of Danièle Delpeuch) tells the story of Hortense Laborie, appointed to be personal chef to the President of France. Before we get to the nitty-gritty of the film, can I just say that the food in the movie was so beautiful? I wanted to cook the whole time I was watching it. And eat. I really wanted to eat.

Role of Women: I loved the main female character. She is gracious, competent, passionate, staunch. She’s unafraid of adventures, travelling from the President’s private kitchen to a remote Antarctic base. She’s an artist. She’s a little bit unruly, running the kitchen her own way despite the strict rules that surround her. She’s wise.
Sexualisation of Women: There are some coarse moments in the film, a few jokes from male characters about the only woman around. Broadly, though, Hortense is valued for her character, personality, and talent, not her body. And even when she is confronted with sexism, she is not intimidated by it– troubled by it, disdainful of it, but not intimidated.
Bechdel Test Pass/Fail: Pass. Hortense has conversations with the President’s secretary (not sure she was named; it was all subtitles so I might just have missed it), and with the journalist in Antarctica.
Male:Female Ratio: There’s only four or five female characters. This is part of the plot, of course, as Hortense forges her own path through the male-dominated world of the palais kitchens. I think they did a good job of not overemphasizing it; that is, the plot was more about the rules and restrictions of the palais versus Hortense’s passionate, artistic cooking style, but still.


Film Fridays: Mad Max: Fury Road

When I first saw the Mad Max trailer, I almost shuddered. I honestly thought it looked like one of the stupidest movies I’d ever seen. Inexplicable babes and dystopian car chases and apparently nothing else. Then it opened, and Steven started hinting that we might want to go see it; the internet buzz was that it was fabulous. I started softening, and agreed to watch it. We watched two of the originals first, and I’d recommend it. Anyhow, we were way behind everyone else in seeing it because parents, but if you haven’t seen it yet, rent the originals off iTunes (they’re like $4) and then for heaven’s sake hie yourself to the movie theatre and go see this movie because it is awesome. And probably wait to read this post, because spoilers.
Visually the movie is stunning. The scenery is incredible, especially for a barren wasteland, and the prop department must’ve had so much fun designing the vehicles– everything, the polecats, the hot-rod tank, the costuming, the engine-based religion, all harks back to and expands on the offbeat motorcycle-gang world introduced in the original, but taken to an epic scale.
Actually it felt like that progression in a lot of ways. The original was a (kind of awful yet oddly beautiful yet weird) very intimate story in the midst of apocalypse. No cities levelled, no epic battles, just open road and a few motorcycles and cars, really; a story about a family. The second one expanded the scale to a settlement big enough to need a bus to get around. From the looks of the trailer the third is a slightly larger world still. And then this, a handful of cities. Really, it’s still quite small, Joe’s territory not more than a day’s journey around. But the environment got harsher, the cultures stranger, the violence broader, and Max himself more laconic and withdrawn.
It’s no secret this is being hailed as a feminist film, but really what I really loved about it was it was just a great story. The women didn’t feel like tokens, like cardboard cutouts, like embodied concepts about feminism, but like real humans beings with passion and resonance and variety. You know, like women actually are.
So, here I go with the breakdown:
Role of Women: In the world of the film, the women of the Citadel are breeders. The most telling line to me was just a casual comment between two of the warboys after the Five Wives are discovered to be escaped along with Furiosa: “She took a lot of his [Immortan Joe’s] stuff.” “What stuff?” “His breeders.” Although Furiosa is entrusted with driving a war rig, most of the women we see in the Citadel are caged and controlled: the nursing mothers hooked up to constant breast pumps, the wives in their warren. In the commentary of the film, though, the women are, to quote, “not things.” The moment when you first see the Wives, slender, sparsely clad and luscious, (described in the previous link as “what would happen if someone decided to heavily arm a Burberry ad”), the knee-jerk reaction is to assume they’re what they look like, what they would be in almost any other action movie: eye-candy. My gut reaction was to object, as I would in any other action movie. But, of course, in the story eye candy was what they were, the role they had been forced into by nature of their lives. But the story took you beyond that. Into their loyalty, dignity, and ferocious passion to be free. Early in the movie, during the first chase into the dust storm I think it was, a war boy drops into the vehicle. The five young women, out in the rough, dark world for the first time in their lives, with no knowledge of weapons, with soft hands and long flowing hair and smooth skin, pounce on him, grabbing and biting, their drive to be free crackling across the screen. I swear, in any other movie ever those women would’ve been screaming and cringing. It was a beautiful moment to see onscreen. Another equally beautiful one was when the heavily-pregnant Angharad places herself and her child between the man who had owned and abused her, and the woman who was helping her escape. Her dignity in that moment was palpable. Great article that outlines a little more of this aspect here.
Sexualisation of Women: Coming out of the theatre, I was reminded of the movie Sucker Punch, the one and only movie I walked out of midway through at the theatre. It purports to be a story about young women fighting back against sexual abuse, but the moviemakers sexualised the actresses so heavily that it felt like it was spitting in its own face. Fury Road was the opposite. A story about women sexualised and abused and objectified completely by their world, who are not at all sexualised in the film. No panning shots up their legs. No suggestion that the hero is entitled to sexual access to them by virtue of helping them (see Skyfall). Even the way they were dressed, which could easily have been presented very sexually, was instead a piece of storytelling, an imposition on them from outside that didn’t detract from their dignity and strength.
Bechdel Test Pass/Fail: Pass, of course.
Male:Female Ratio: The pursuers are exclusively male, and there are a lot of them, so in that sense they outnumber the females, but of the characters you get to know and connect with, females outnumber. Outnumber, yes.
Are you buying your movie tickets yet? Need more convincing? Everything here.
Still not convinced? Look at this picture of Road Warrior Mad Max and COME ON.

Oh, and one final good moment. At the end of the film, the lactating mothers you saw at the beginning, they ones who just felt like props establishing the place of women in this society as, like, human cows? They’re the ones who step out and open the water gates. They are not things, either.

The Ache For Grace

Warning: spoilers ahead.

Controversy raged in the Christian community around the Noah film before it came out, and I have no doubt there will be plenty more as more of us see it. My husband and I went to see it at a late showing Saturday night, along with my father- and brother-in-law. Emerging from the theatre, we were all oddly quiet, immersed in thought about what we had just seen. And I can’t speak for anybody else, but for me this film– written and directed by an atheist, full of extra-Biblical embellishments, terrible theology, and beautiful and terrifying scenery– this film was edifying.
The funny thing is, it was edifying because of what wasn’t there: grace. What was there was also often good. It was moving; I cried several times. It was unflinching in its portrayal of the just wrath of God, such that it caught me off guard and made me question whether I had allowed my view of God’s holiness to grow tame. It showed the poison of wickedness, the deep truth of how human sin causes us to both figuratively and literally rip each other and our world to pieces. (In a powerful scene where Noah is confronted with just how debased and violent humankind has become, his conclusion is not how much better he and his family are, but that the whole human race, himself included, is utterly evil.) And it takes very seriously the antediluvian world and the events of the Flood, in a way that makes me rather ashamed of the friendly, rainbowy Ark that adorns so much of Christian Sunday School material.
Then again, what was there was often also bad. God is impersonal and lets His chosen servant muddle around with no clear idea of what He truly wants. The backstory of the Nephilim suggests that “fallen” angels are just weak but kind for pitying man when God wanted to make them suffer. The understanding of sin leaves God completely out of the equation, considering it hatred of other humans and cruelty towards nature without recognizing ultimate sin: rejecting the goodness, holiness, and authority of God in favour of our own self-serving will. It was totally, completely whitewashed, not a single character of colour which makes no sense considering that the 8 survivors of the Ark repopulate the human race. And it presents the line of Seth as a line of gentle vegetarians, when in fact the point of Seth’s line is that they had faith in God’s way of covering their sin: in the sacrificial system and God’s covenantal promise for ultimate redemption someday.
And there was no grace. The phrase from Genesis 6 kept echoing through my brain, it’s absence from the film prodding at me: “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” The film missed the point that the Ark was not to preserve the innocent, but that God in His infinite patience showed grace to a remnant of sinful, guilty humankind against the day when His justice and His mercy would both be fulfilled in Christ’s sacrifice. The film concluded that our hope is that there is goodness within us as well as wickedness, hope that our kindness might redeem us, but in truth all our goodness is stained with wickedness and our hope is in spite of that, in God’s work redeeming us. And what this did for me was make me ache– physically ache– for what was left out. “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord,” cried my heart, and as the bleakness of a graceless salvation was thoroughly told by an unbelieving filmmaker, the beauty and blessedness of salvation by grace alone was thrown into stark contrast for me, and that was what I found edifying. I came away rejoicing that what I had seen was not the true story.
At the climax of the film, when Noah, convinced that God sent the Flood to end the human race, is poised to kill his two newborn granddaughters in their mother’s arms, I was in tears. My own boy is so new that I could not but feel the horror of the moment strike close to home. My heart cried out in that moment, “No child should have to die!” It was the same horror that cuts at me when I read of abortion or think of the countless orphaned or unwanted children in the world; a fierce, protective horror. And then I was blindsided, swift and sure, by a mind-shattering thought. See, Noah wasn’t wrong, really. By all rights, God should have ended the cruel, lustful, covetous, self-serving human race there in that Flood. But instead, God Himself– God Himself!– sent His one perfect, sinless, precious son to die a catastrophic death, so that He might reconcile with the cruel and covetous human race, so that one day– one day no child would ever have to die again.
And in the end of the film, when Noah lies drunk and naked and wracked by guilt, separated from his family on a rocky beach, Shem and Japheth choose not to look on his shame, but instead to cover him. I doubt Aronofsky had any inkling of what that picture meant, but I saw it. There in the midst of the works-righteousness, in the midst of the embellishments and bad theology and mixed-up ideas– there was Christ.