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[whitespace] 'A Matter of Taste'
Mostly Palatable: Frédéric Delamont (left) and Nicolas Rivière masticate together.

French Affair

The Palo Alto French Film Festival offers food, lions and more

By Richard von Busack

FEW TALES FROM the annals of toadying are as eerie as the one charted in the opener of this year's Palo Alto French Film Festival, Bernard Rapp's A Matter of Taste (Une affaire de goût). Not even the team of Montgomery Burns and Wayland Smithers can match such cruelty and spinelessness. It's an evil comedy about a waiter named Nicolas Rivière (Jean-Pierre Lorit) recruited by a callous millionaire, Frédéric Delamont (Bernard Giraudeau). Plucked out of a fancy restaurant, Rivière is hired as Delamont's food taster.

It's not that Delamont is necessarily suspicious of poisoning, though there'd be plenty of people happy to murder him; it's just that he's afraid of having his senses offended. Delamont's tastes are so keen that he can't bear anyone else's enjoyment of food he loathes. And there's more to Rivière's job than tasting. Delamont also wants someone to mentor, a companion, a disciple, a son and--in porn-movie parlance--a fluffer. ("Your job is to taste, not to consume," Delamont says, pulling a girl out of Nicolas's embrace.)

A Matter of Taste is a thriller about the urge to truckle, lightened with a vicious sense of humor. Moreover, it's an implicit critique of the cult of American business. The French aren't likely to make a bestseller out of Jack: From the Gut. Yet certain ruthless ideas are penetrating into the public life of a nation that prided themselves more on enjoying their lives than enduring their careers. So Rapp's film can be read as a fearful parody of the near-fascist rhetoric that informs too many business training manuals.

While festival director Hayet Ennabli calls this one-weekend fest French, it's more accurately Francophone; the selections from North Africa and Haiti include three films by Raoul Peck, director of Lumumba. The most spectacular of these is Sirga, a fantasy film co-produced by Luc Besson (The Fifth Element). Shot in four regions of Africa, this story follows an enslaved boy from an African village where a truce exists between lions and people. On a narrative level, it's for older kids who can handle hard suspense, some violence and subtitles. The film isn't really more developed than one of the better Tarzan movies, but the animal footage and stunts are jaw-dropping. Also startling are director Franklin Grandperret's vistas of the veldt and the Moorish fortress where the lion-boy (Mathurin Sinze) is held and ultimately rescued.

A Matter of Taste (2000) Plays Friday at 7:30pm in Palo Alto at the Spangenberg Theater, 780 Arastradero Rd. SIRGA Plays Saturday at 2pm. Part of the Palo Alto French Film Festival. For more information call 866.468.3399 or see www.pafff.org.

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From the October 18-24, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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