June Butler tucks into Peter Strickland’s latest film.
Flux Gourmet is a hilarious romp through a maze of culinary delights, following a trio of artists who perform live on command at an art gallery. The presentation pieces are based on all things edible (and not so edible!). Giving an insight into the creative mind of director Peter Strickland, Flux Gourmet is a witty satire on the pomposity of performance artists who take themselves way too seriously.
The gallery is run by the exceedingly odd Jan Stevens (Gwendoline Christie), whose name is accompanied with almost audible gasps whenever another cast member utters it. The collective is headed by Elle di Elle (Fatma Mohamed) and joined by Billy Rubin (Asa Butterfield) and Lamina Propria (Ariane Labed). They are accompanied at all times by Stones (Makis Papadimitriou), who plays the part of filmmaker, confidante, and minder to the group. Stones has his own physical ailments given that he suffers from serious gastro-intestinal issues and feels ill and bloated for much of the time. Elle, Billy, Lamina, and Stones live in a strange commune, sharing a room together and becoming party to each other’s intimate body functions. All four occupy the same bedroom and are ritualistic about their sleeping habits. Every night Stones goes into the bathroom and stays there for hours much to the continued bewilderment of Lamina and Elle. They feel obliged to make incessant comments on Stones and his enduring stomach complaints.
Jan Stevens is in equal parts revered and feared yet possesses a strange level of vulnerability. It is almost as if Strickland is setting her up to be likeable and then drops the guillotine with searing ruthlessness as the trio of artists turn on Stevens, defying her wishes with devastating cruelty. Stevens is at times witnessed watching the artists almost like a puppet-master. Elle, Billy, and Lamina dance to Jan’s tune and despite what they may think, are not in control of their own representation.
In other moments, audiences are forced to stifle laughter when Jan Stevens attempts to seduce Billy Rubin wearing a silky bunny suit. Strickland is a master of opposites – ridicule and satire are as one with moments like the Stevens/Rubin conquest taking centre stage. After each daily performance, Jan Stevens, Elle, Billy and Lamina, among others, take part in an orgy. This ceremony is staged with applied dedication and enacted without passion. It is simply a means to an end, much like the act of eating and consuming.
The leader of the trio, Elle di Elle, approaches the acting installations with steely brutality. Her aggressive stance as bandleader, has ensured that Lamina and Billy see their future as one without Elle to guide them. Elle and Jan Stevens enter a bitter power struggle where each is committed to vanquish the other. It becomes a childish battle of wills as both women attempt to gain the upper hand. Elle di Elle heads the collective with rigid determination and fails to notice that Billy and Lamina are deeply disenfranchised.
Richard Bremmer plays the role of Dr Glock with gleeful determination – consuming vast quantities of wine, even as he stages medical procedures. Poor Stones is destined to have all his illnesses dismissed by the bug-eyed, exophthalmic Glock. In the world of normal, the good doctor would be immediately struck off the medical register for his habitual dedication in mixing business and pleasure. And for his casual malice in publicly discussing Stones’s patient history.
Flux Gourmet is a combination of The Keystone Cops (1912-1917, Dir. Mack Sennett), and Suspiria (1977, Dir. Dario Argento). Supposed menace is everywhere. At times silly and incredibly immature, a bunch of mischief makers and pranksters, artistic zealots, intent on causing issues between the collective and Jan Stevens, persist in launching guerrilla-like attacks on the group as they gather to make after-dinner speeches each evening. Their activities remind the viewer of the kid who pulls the pigtails of little girls in the playground and then runs away. Director Peter Strickland draws a stark comparison between the tenuous concept of what really constitutes art and where exactly to draw the line between swindlers contra those who possess genuine talent.
Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response or ASMR, is the name given to a pleasurable tingling feeling on the scalp or neck in response to certain visual or auditory cues. While audiences would argue that any ASMR’s that may exist in Flux Gourmet are not pleasing, nonetheless viewers of the film would confirm that there is some sense of visual response to the film and the feeling of nausea may continue long after final credits have rolled. This reviewer would cautiously suggest not eating a full meal prior to watching.
Flux Gourmet is in cinemas from 30th September 2022.