We hereby declare a moratorium on food-related puns and metaphors in this discussion of Flux Gourmet, now on VOD. British filmmaker Peter Strickland’s (In Fabric) icky-fetishy-scatological satire about “sonic caterers” aims to skewer culinary and art cultures like – well, I was going to say “like a kabob,” but then I’d be violating my own prohibitory dictum. Not that the movie’s going to stoke any appetites; it’s rather tactile in its yuckiness, so any gastro-grumbles you feel are more likely due to your stomach’s desire to empty itself rather than fill it.
The Gist: Welcome to the Sonic Catering Institute. It’s an extremely insular, extremely absurd artsy-fartsy bubble where artistes broil and blend and fricassee food not to eat, but to create music from the sounds. And it’s not music in the conventional, classical sense, but postmodern music – digitally processed noise, like diegetic David Lynch drones layered with extra screeching and grinding. Jan Stevens (Gwendoline Christie) is the Institute’s proprietress, hosting performances and housing musicians in an isolated mansion; she wears ludicrous hats and her makeup aesthetic is one pat of pancake powder shy of Bozo the Clown. The “band” in her residency consists of leader Elle di Elle (Fatma Mohamed) and collaborators Billy Rubin (Asa Butterfield) and Lamina Propria (Ariane Labed), all of whom have aestheticized themselves within an inch of their lives, like fashion-week rejects.
Documenting their roguery, and serving as our POV narrator, is a rumpled sad-sack journalist known only as Stones (Makis Papadimitriou), a slab of flavorless beige among the other characters’ self-indulgent, self-obsessed color. They prepare for performances by displaying their great interpersonal dysfunctions, arguing and pantomiming trips to a grocery store directed by Jan. When they’re in front of audiences, Lamina and Billy chop and cook and twiddle knobs on electronic gear as Elle does attention-grabbing frontperson things, e.g., writhing around on stage, smearing her nude body with bloodlike sauce, repeatedly hitting herself on the forehead with a microphone, etc. Attendees stand in awed silence and applaud and show their post-show appreciation by participating in orgies with the performers. While masses of flesh commingle in front of him like a scene from Caligula’s boudoir, Stones sits back and takes notes.
This weekslong ostentatious exhibition is all indigestible for Stones, who develops a near-crippling case of intestinal gas. The local physician, Dr. Glock (Richard Bremmer), examines and diagnoses him in-between gulps of wine and rank condescension: “You’re a writer who hasn’t read Hippocrates?” Stones interviews Elle and Lamina and Billy, during which they share their psychological paradiddles, including their origins, how they came together as a “band” and how much they f—ing can’t stand each other. Meanwhile, Stones does what he can to discreetly release his flatus and hide the omnipresent pain in his guts, and maintain his journalistic objectivity. He fails mightily at all of this, because before you know it, he’s participating in something altogether unpleasant: “public gastroscopy.”
Photo: IFC Midnight / Courtesy Everett Collection
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: I just saw restaurant-biz melodrama A Taste of Hunger, which muddles its topical criticism in comparison to Strickland’s point-blank targeting with Flux Gourmet. His winking-ominous tone and style brings to mind Cronenbergian fetish-horror (eXistenZ, Naked Lunch, etc.) and neo-derivations by Nicolas Winding-Refn (The Neon Demon) and Yorgos Lanthimos (The Killing of a Sacred Deer); Strickland sometimes strikes me as Wes Anderson if he was a Euro-occultist or something.
Performance Worth Watching: Bremmer is positively loathsome as the supercilious doctor. He’s the funniest thing in the movie, and you’ll want to kill him.
Memorable Dialogue: A sample of Stones’ priceless narration: “Standing as far back as possible was simply out of a need to relieve any trapped wind without consequence.”
Sex and Skin: Artsy orgy montages; Elle’s lewdy-nudie stage spectacles.
Our Take: If you’ve ever thought self-important artists tend to go up their own arseholes in pursuit of some highfalutin sense of greater truth, you’ll find plenty of intellectual traction in Flux Gourmet, because Strickland guides us quite literally into his narrator’s colon. It’s not a stretch to say that food has never been less appetizing in a movie. There’s food here, and a suggestive R-rated facsimile of porn, but nothing resembling food porn; no one will mistake this for Like Water for Chocolate or Babette’s Feast, not in the least.
Rather, to maybe coin a term, Strickland grotesquifies consumables, rendering them down to gluey, pasty coulis or unpalatable vegetable grindage, the sounds of cooking amplified and distorted, transformed into a staticky, roaring din. He also, via Stones’ physical malady, shows what happens when we try to swallow such dreck passing itself off as art: ceaseless gastrointestinal effluvium. This impossibly entrenched insular community is populated with pretentious psuedointellectual crackpot flakes exploring their own innards for something, anything that resembles art, pushing it through the many contortions of the small and large intestine until it emerges as excrement. Yep, we get it: They’re full of shit.
So I wouldn’t say Flux Gourmet is subtle. But funny? Brutal? Ridiculous? Ironic? Just flat-out rich? Absolutely. Strickland’s eye for visual detail enlivens the film with color and texture; it also finds him hiding little gags in the periphery of the action for big laughs (e.g., a scene in which our three principal artists dress head-to-toe in black like cat burglars to invade a home, but wear oh-so-fashionable fingerless gloves). The sound design is equally meticulous, the roaring brown-note noise and squishy foods creating a queasy vibe that’s thankfully alleviated by our laughter. Thematically, it loads its cannon with disdainful irony and fires away at the phony-balonies in the fine-art, fashion and food cultures, which maybe are easy targets, but frequently deserving ones. The performances are uniformly committed, dialed into Strickland’s satirical overtures – if the film were any more deadpan, it’d be resting on a coroner’s slab.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Relentlessly gross and wickedly funny, Flux Gourmet goes way over the top in its quest to deflate the petty gasbags of the world. It’s often so nutty, it makes farce look like Oscar bait.
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at johnserbaatlarge.com.
Source by decider.com