Chemically, our brains process the feelings from good food and good sex similarly. The desire, and fulfillment, for each strokes our minds with the same cocktail of reactions. It’s only sensible for a film to lean into this connection. A Taste of Hunger deploys an elite visual style to engage the senses in a unique way. The film’s opening sequence showcases the construction of astonishingly beautiful dishes in Bacchic detail as the chords of “Feeling Good” set the scene. The kitchen is dark and the camera pulls us in close to each detail of the food prep – it’s intimate and exacting with the musically perfectly heightening the eroticism. It’s the perfect tone setting montage for a film steeped in eroticism.
The chef is played by the wonderful Danish actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. Best known for his work as Jaime Lannister on HBO’s Game of Thrones (I’d a;sp recommend his fantastic turn in the Norwegian film Headhunters), Coster-Waldau excels at playing focused complicated characters. His reserved surface energy always seems to hide a little something extra beneath the surface, an air of danger. An early sequence sees Coster-Waldau’s Carsten fire a sous chef for failing to taste the ingredients before service. Coster-Waldau plays the scene with a sense of barely contained raging obsessiveness. Each closed question delivers him closer to the answer he knew from the start, and the way he lets the anger begin to leak out of him is impressive. The hostility feels genuine and exacting: a failure of detail that may cost the restaurant a Michelin star. Coster-Waldau manages to play with the line of control throughout the film in an impressive, smart performance.
The film works so well in large part because of the absolutely electric chemistry between Coster-Waldau and Katrine Greis-Rosenthal (The Command, A Fortunate Man). When we first meet the characters, Carsten and Maggi play act a bar pick-up. It’s a throwback to their earlier, happier days. The film deploys a complex structure of chapters, all delightfully titled with the compositional elements of a meal like “Sweet,” “Sour,” “Salt,” and “Fat,” which overtime reveals the couple’s meeting, growth, and eventual turmoil. My favorite sequence, revisited in a few chapters, sees the two meet in the basement of a party in which Carsten is the chef. The two talk about food, and life, gradually moving closer physically and emotionally. The scene culminates with Carsten designing a pickled fig hot dog alongside Maggi. It only makes sense that the dish they design is of the most phallic variety. I’m far less familiar with Greis-Rosenthal’s work but she’s an impressive actor capable of delivering volumes with a glare: the camera absolutely adores her expressive eyes.
I loved the way Coster-Waldau and Greis-Rosenthal play off one another in the more trying times as well. There’s a simmering mutual frustration beneath the surface that manifests in the little bubbles of a clipped retort here or a side-eyed glance there. It is a tension that feels earned and true to long relationships in real life. Not every battle is pitched, some are barely noticed slights that accumulate over time – both of the leads here carry the weight of those little injustices perfectly.
Taking a step back to the craft, director Christoffer Boe (Sex, Drugs & Taxation) has a keen eye for composition. Beyond the inimitable food porn, he brings Copenhagen’s high end restaurant scene to life. The film acts as something of a travelogue as Maggi is forced to bounce from restaurant to restaurant through the film’s action. When the action leaves the city for the countryside, the film’s visual lens softens and brightens. Simply put, it’s a gorgeous film.
I do have some quibbles with A Taste of Hunger overall plot and structure. As much as I enjoyed the film’s gorgeous visuals and the spark between Coster-Waldau and Greis-Rosenthal, the plot in the film’s last act started to lose me. The twists into the realm of the lurid and soapy might be right for the material, but failed to land for me here. I could almost feel the material starting to slip away from the filmmakers. Thankfully the film ends on its greatest strength, Coster-Waldau and Greis-Rosenthal sharing the camera.
A Taste of Hunger is a magnificent, sumptuous visual feast heightened by the electric chemistry between its leads.
A Taste of Hunger will be in theaters and VOD on January 28. It also features an early contender for the best movie poster of 2022.