Éric Besnard: “I am interested in the political sense of the restaurant and the return to the province” | Cinema in the SER | Present

We move to 1789, months before the French Revolution. The historical event that marked the end of the absolutist monarchies is the setting in which ‘Delicious’ is framed, a story that recreates the appearance of the first restaurant in France signed by Éric Besnard.

Pierre, played by Grégory Gadebois, is a fantastic cook who works in the service of the Duke of Chamfort. However, one day he is fired for innovating in his culinary dishes and introducing two forbidden foods to the menu: truffles and potatoes. The protagonist, who has lost all passion for cooking, retires accompanied by his son to a house in the French countryside where he decides to start a new life outside the kitchen. But his interest in the profession will flourish again thanks to the arrival of Louise, who is played by a wonderful Isabelle Carré.

Besnard, known for his previous films such as ‘Cash’ or ‘Pear cake with lavender’, receives us at a Madrid hotel where he promotes his new film.

How does this story come about? What relationship does gastronomy have with the French Revolution?

It was a reflection on the French model. As a French director, I was interested in knowing what was the specificity of my country. From there I began to search and one of the most important aspects was the French Revolution and the entire Enlightenment and its philosophers. Reading about it, trying to refresh my memory, I found in a book the creation of the first restaurant. It was before the Revolution and I believed that it was much earlier so I began to compare documentation on this subject and I understood that the restaurant was a typical idea of ​​the century of lights and from then on I had a vehicle to tell what I wanted through of a particular topic. I came across a thread to talk about a topic but through gastronomy and it seemed like a good base.

What was your documentation process?

Everything is true and everything is false, everything that is said, from the ban on truffles and potatoes to the creation of the cheese tray, the transformation of the post houses … all of this is true. But the character of Pierre Mancerot did not exist. We do not have documentation on the first restaurants in the provinces, the first fifteen were created in Paris, we know where and they were all in the same area near the Royal Palace, there is one that still exists. I was not interested in that, but in the political sense of the restaurant and the return to simple things and to the land, the terroir, which is the province. The parallelism between that time and ours was my workhorse; between a society of seeming, of appearances – of the ruling classes locked in a bubble that do not see reality – and a people that suffered more and more. The amount of points in common with current situations is impressive.

Mention appearances. Is French society very concerned about your image?

France is no exception in the western world. Since the 1980s, the gap between rich and poor has not stopped widening. Before it was the opposite, it was shrinking. The same thing happens in the 18th century. There are people who are getting richer and richer and more and more distant from reality; on the other hand, there are people who do what they can but there comes a time when they can’t take it anymore. In the 18th century, the increase in the price of bread was one of the causes that generated the French Revolution because the harvests of that year were disastrous. The Yellow Vests began to demonstrate when the price of gasoline also increased.

The two male characters (father and son) are very different. Pierre, the protagonist, abandons his interest in cooking after losing his job and settles for the new life that awaits him. However, his son is well aware of the humiliation to which his father has been subjected.

He wanted to create a character who was a victim of his social class. As much as they humiliate him, he doesn’t feel that way. You can only get out of this situation when other characters make you feel confident in yourself, which will be through the female character. The son is absolutely immersed in the readings of the Age of Enlightenment, he looks towards the future, towards tomorrow, he is not a victim of his social class, he is the one who can transcend and pass from one social class to another. It is the mandatory role of youth, to remember that the place where you were born does not have to be closed, it is possible to get out of there.

Do you think this works the same today? Are the younger generations the ones who denounce injustices and take to the streets?

I do believe that there is a youth that denounces. I do not agree with everything that is said, I am not always with young people, but I do not believe that a single and dominant model of thought is healthy. It was like that for Catholicism in the 18th century and it is the same for liberalism in the 21st century. It bothers me a lot when they say: “It is what it is.” The ultra-liberals have imposed a unique thought that I have faced since I was 18 years old. My generation lost that battle, clearly, but if we can win it tomorrow, then chapeau.

The female character works as an engine for change in Pierre’s attitude. Why?

For many films my characters have been metaphors for who I am. There are many points in common between a chef and a director. I try to see what the other’s gaze is [la de la mujer] what inspires you to have enough confidence in yourself to be able to try to advance and progress. From the moment I had a character who was locked into his social class and who did not have confidence in himself, I had to send a female character. I found it very interesting and very tempting that she was the first woman in the kitchen. I start from that idea and ask myself: “What can a woman do in the 18th century?” It can be a servant, a prostitute or an aristocrat. “Well, it’s going to be all three,” I told myself. And so he becomes the motor character of the film.

The French preserve auteur cinema better than anyone, you just have to see the latest awards at international festivals. How is the sector experiencing these turbulent times? Restrictions due to the health emergency, a huge boom in platforms …

As much as you are convinced that you are going to lose that is not a reason not to fight. “Tough” is a very noble word. Unfortunately the system transforms you into a pure and simple consumer. The French cinema model has protected our cinema very well, but now we have to look at the truth head-on and accept that the people who go to the cinema in France are older people and that is a very bad indicator, the worst. We will have to live in that confrontation.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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