‘Flux Gourmet’ KVIFF 2022 review: Peter Strickland’s culinary school confidential

NOW STREAMING ON:

A team of culinary performance artists learn how to hone their craft in Flux Gourmet, which plays at this year’s Karlovy Vary International Film Festival after premiering at the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year. This new feature from In Fabric and The Duke of Burgundy director Peter Strickland is as impeccably crafted as his previous work in visual terms, but delivers a far less compelling story.

Flux Gourmet charts the provocative work of a trio of performance artists – Elle di Elle (Fatma Mohamed), Billy (Asa Butterfield), and Lamina (Ariane Labed) – at the isolated Sonic Culinary Institute run by Jan Stevens (Game of ThronesGwendoline Christie).

The central conceit of the Sonic Culinary Institute is a bizarre mixture of cuisine and music – ASMR sounds derived from food products – both of which take a backseat to Elle’s over-the-top performances that see her writhing around the floor naked and covered in faux blood, much to the delight of her audience.

Charting this weirdness is Stones (Makis Papadimitriou), a tepid Greek journalist who seems most ill-equipped to handle this particular assignment: he suffers from severe gastrointestinal issues that have him bowling over in pain while he attempts to hold in his flatulence. The noise and food seem to exacerbate his condition, which is examined by the school’s intense physician (Richard Bremmer).

There’s a lot of strangeness going on in Flux Gourmet that holds our interest on a surface level, but there’s not a lot going on beneath the facade. The central rivalry between the tempestuous Elle and domineering headmistress Jan, who goes as far as to develop a relationship with her bandmate, drives the bulk of the story, but because everything here is so explicitly unnatural, there’s little for us to get invested in.

As satire, Flux Gourmet bears a close resemblance to Terry Zwigoff’s Art School Confidential in eviscerating a too-easy target – a world of pretentious faux art – that really needs no such evisceration. But Zwigoff’s film worked as it was grounded in some form of reality; Strickland fails to make as much of an impact here because he takes everything to unnatural extremes, delivering an art film that’s almost as self-effacing as its subject.

Still, the director’s impassioned control over the visual presentation of his film, along with Tom Sidell’s trenchant cinematography, results in a number of standout sequences and memorable moments. Taken in bite-size segments, Flux Gourmet provides enough nutritional value to warrant at least a mild recommendation.

And it should be noted that for as outrageous as the central concept of culinary music is, director Strickland has been a part of the real deal – The Sonic Catering Band – since the 1990s. They provided the unusual but most assuredly appropriate score to the film, as they did for the director’s previous features Berbarian Sound Studio and Katalin Varga.

Coming on the heels of masterful features like In Fabric, The Duke of Burgundy, and Berbarian Sound Studio, Flux Gourmet is undeniably a regression from the director, who continues to wow with the visual presentation but doesn’t entice the audience with his story this time around. Here’s hoping for more satisfying results the next time around.

Flux Gourmet

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Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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