“Menus-Pleasures. Les Troisgros”: the starry feast of Frederick Wiseman

“Menus-Pleasures. Les Troisgros”: the starry feast of Frederick Wiseman

Movies

A brief glance at the work of 93-year-old Frederick Wiseman is enough to make one dizzy. In fifty-six years of career and a good forty films, excuse me, the former Boston lawyer converted to cinema in the 1960s has documented the main crossroads and antechambers of American public life, from psychiatric hospitals ( Titicut Follies , 1967) to city hall ( City Hall , 2020), through high school ( High School I , 1968, and II , 1994), social services ( Welfare , 1975; Domestic Violence , 2002), a base of the NATO ( Maneuver , 1979) or a library ( Ex Libris , 2017).

Based in Paris, the filmmaker opened, within this monumental filmography, a French branch, devoting a handful of films to France as an undercover defector, with the slick and laconic eye that characterizes him. Here again, the documentarian tours institutions, this time cultural, La Comédie-Française ou l’amour vivant (1996), La Danse. The Paris Opera Ballet (2009), Crazy Horse (2011), to which has now been added, with Menus-Plaisirs , Maison Troisgros, in Roanne (Loire), a large three-Michelin-starred restaurant.

A question arises straight away. What reality can we grasp of France through the luster of such jewels, in this case the mecca of gastronomy classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site? What interests Wiseman is precisely the way in which these places induce their own staging: cuisine is no exception, as a specific form of representation that a country gives to itself as much as to the others. The filmmaker approaches it with the method we know for him, forged for a long time: going “around the owner” without any other comment than a suggestive montage, and the long time of the observation – the watch here achieving both one hundred and forty minutes.

An empire of concentration

Maison Troisgros, a family business spanning several generations, will therefore be available in all its components. The father, Michel, has entrusted the keys to the star-studded flagship, Le Bois sans Feuilles, where he always lends a helping hand, to his eldest son, César, while the youngest, Léo, runs the two adjoining tables, La Colline du Colombier and, in downtown Roanne, Le Central. The mother, Marie-Pierre, oversees the hotel side, and as an interior designer on the “decor” line of the various establishments.

Every institution being first and foremost a “machine”, Wiseman looks at its functioning, its workings. To do this, he pursues the trail of products, gleaned from the first scene by the chefs themselves on the Roanne market, then from various small local producers (breeder, wine grower, refiner, etc.), to be transported to the kitchens, taken in hand by the brigade, worked, transformed and finally assembled at this point of the process which is the plate. Even more, it is the range of practices surrounding the kitchen which are declined over the sequences, by capillarity, from table service to sommelier, passing through the various layers of relations with customers.

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