Matt Micucci samples the delights of the Galway Film Fleadh’s opening film, Tasting Menu, starring Fionnula Flanagan, who was in attendence at a lively post-screening Q&A session.
The 25th Galway Film Fleadh could not have kicked off in a more delightful and delicious way. Tasting Menu, co-written and directed by Roger Gual, is a great feel-good comedy which charmed the audience with its story of lives crossing on the closing night of a Catalonian restaurant regarded as the best restaurant in the world. The director and star of the film Fionnula Flanagan were in attendance and talked a little about the film.
“It was the happiest shoot I was ever on,” said Flanagan, whose radiant performance as an endearingly eccentric wealthy countess who brings her dead husband’s urn to the restaurant is a real treat. “It was like being away with the gypsies – you know, the ones that play tambourines and tell fortunes.” Watching the film, it is plain to see that the cast had fun playing their roles on screen as they were allowed more freedom to portray their characters thanks to the director’s theatrical approach which recalls the works of Robert Altman. “I like to let the scenes play out” he said, “which is why I treat each scene individually. That way, the set feels a lot like a theatre stage. I trust the actors’ creations, and in the editing room I am aware of their performances when I choose what to use and what not to use in the final work.”
This theatrical approach is one of the things that interested Flanagan in working with Gual. She mentioned his previous film Smoking Room, an independent production which earned him a Goya Award in 2003 as best new director. “When I saw Smoking Room, I noticed this approach too, as well as his sense of humour and his sense of human condition. That is managed so well in Tasting Menu by the humour, which is quite Shakespearean – the comedy of errors and of mistaken identities. To me it was amazing that he was able to fashion a story that included everyone and gave everyone their moment.”
Indeed, all the characters in the film seem to be playing a vital role in the sophisticated structure of its multi-layered plot; from the waiters in the background to the pivotal story of star-crossed lovers about a couple meeting up after a year-long separation. “I try to write a story I can believe in, a story I think can be moving and entertaining. I like telling stories that have something in it I want to share with the audience,” Gual said.
Of course, apart from the comedy and the romance, there is the food, which as well as providing the film’s important ‘MacGuffin’ element, is also glorified as an art form in its own right. “We were inspired by the documentaries about ElBulli and other famous Catalonian restaurants.” Gual also mentioned that they collaborated with El Celler de Can Roca, a restaurant from Girona, which was recently named the best restaurant in the world by Restaurant Magazine; their crew also helped make the dishes that are seen in the film adding a beautiful visual touch.
Tasting Menu marks the introduction of Roger Gual to an Irish audience, and reveals him as an interesting filmmaker worthy of being discovered. It is a highly enjoyable film with its tasteful mixture of laughs and romanticism as well as carrying pleasant messages of denial of snobbery and a call for return to innocence without falling for clichés or flawed sentimentalism. Unravelling at a steady pace and thanks to some vibrant performances by the cast, this film is very entertaining and a promising beginning to this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.