Popcorn isn’t the only food that’s a suitable match for the movies. Filmmakers are perpetually training their cameras on fried chickens, chocolate cakes, and spicy tuna rolls—and the people who produce and devour them. Stories about environmental destruction, monomaniacal artistry, family relationships, frustrated ambition, beauty, and the passage of time are somehow more palatable when framed by a plate.
The Seattle International Film Festival has long brought many of the genre’s best examples to town, and this year continues the tradition with five documentaries, six shorts, and a pair of feature-length dramas. Here’s what you’ll need to know to plan your film diet this season:
The Fruit Hunters
10 a.m. Sat., May 18, Egyptian Theater; 7 p.m. Mon., May 20, SIFF Cinema Uptown. Canada, 96 minutes.
The Fruit Hunters, an adaptation of Adam Leith Gollner’s globetrotting The Fruit Hunters: A Story of Nature, Obsession, Commerce, and Adventure, strives to convey the magnetic allure of exotic fruit by trailing fruit detectives and chronicling actor Bill Pullman’s attempt to establish a community fruit orchard in his Hollywood ’hood. The latter storyline’s a flop, succeeding only in making viewers extraordinarily grateful that they live far, far away from the tree-collecting celebrity’s ego. But the scenes of obsessives detailing their inexplicable love for durian; researchers meticulously matching latter-day figs to prints in century-old books; and rainforest explorers floating down jungle rivers to locate the last-known specimen of a mango tree are terrifically exciting. And the images of unfamiliar fruits’ flesh, which variously calls to mind deconstructed smiles and bewigged barristers, are stunning.
9:30 p.m. Fri., May 31, Egyptian Theater; 8:30 p.m. Sat., June 1, Kirkland Performance Center. France, 95 minutes.
A kind of Dave for the gourmet set, Haute Cuisine is a plucked-from-the-headlines dramedy about a provincial restaurant owner appointed personal chef to president François Mitterand. Country mouse Hortense Laborie (based on Daniele Delpeuch, who later took a head-cook job at an Antarctic research station) has to contend with sophisticated skeptics at the Palais de Élysée, a doctor who insists the president shouldn’t eat fatty sauces, and jealous co-workers—but of course she perseveres. The film doles out tension as stintingly as Hortense uses cream, but the food-preparation shots are awfully pretty.
More Than Honey
8:30 p.m. Thurs., May 23, SIFF Cinema Uptown; 4:30 p.m. Tues., June 4, Egyptian Theater. Germany, 90 minutes.
For filmgoers who like to get stoned before the show, More Than Honey gets off to a promising start: Lingering close-ups of bees, swarming into near-abstraction, are interspersed with scenes of an old German beekeeper quietly reminiscing about his grandfather and flowers. But the film quickly takes a serious turn that demands the viewer’s full attention: Director Markus Imhoof is intent on uncovering what’s killing off bees worldwide. He explores a number of theories which don’t interact as elegantly as the bees he captures in their hives. Still, for aparians who’ve sat through numerous screenings of Vanishing of the Bees, More Than Honey is a welcome and visually-compelling addition to the bee journalism canon.
Mussels in Love
7 p.m. Mon., June 3, Harvard Exit; 1 p.m. Sat., June 8, Kirkland Performance Center. Netherlands, 73 minutes.
Oysters are usually considered the Casanovas of the bivalve class, but Mussels in Love mounts a defense of the mussel as an equally erotic shellfish. The documentary traffics in the same close-ups that figure so prominently in The Fruit Hunters and More Than Honey, but the soundtrack stresses these images are meant to titillate. In addition to following the mussel through sex and storms, the film checks in with biologists, chefs, and gynecologists. For mussel devotees only.
6 p.m. Tues., June 4, SIFF Cinema Uptown; 3:30 p.m. Sun., June 9, Kirkland Performance Center. Australia, 75 minutes.
Red Obsession wasn’t available for screening at press time, but critics who’ve watched it agree that it’s best on the nose. The gorgeous images of France’s Bordeaux region and charming invocations of the grape’s history—Frances Ford Coppola speculates that Thomas Jefferson could have sampled the same centuries-old wine he once had the chance to drink—suggest “a film that could have relatively broad appeal,” the Hollywood Reporter’s John DeFore wrote in his coverage of April’s Tribeca Film Festival. But Red Obsession loses footing when the narrative shifts to China, where the very wealthy have developed a taste for Bordeaux. Wine geeks like Jane Anson, who reviewed the film for Decanter.com, will notice it “feels at times like a period piece, as so much has changed in the Bordeaux/China relationship since the film was shot in 2011.” And non-oenophiles will likely have trouble mustering sympathy for rich Westerners whose collecting has suffered from Chinese buyers driving up prices.
4 p.m. Sun., June 2, SIFF Cinema Uptown; 7:30 p.m. Tues., June 4, Kirkland Performance Center. USA, 100 minutes.
Another film that wasn’t made available to Seattle Weekly, SOMM unseated Sideways as the most-talked about film in wine circles long before it premiered at the 2012 Napa Valley Film Festival (to a standing ovation, naturally). The documentary follows four candidates for the title of master sommelier, the highest honor a wine professional can attain. Members of the study group chronicled in SOMM make flash cards, draw maps, trade insults, and worry: It’s just like Stand and Deliver, except the stars are wearing tastevins.
You Will Be My Son
7 p.m. Wed., June 5, SIFF Cinema Uptown; 8:30 p.m. Fri., June 7, Kirkland Performance Center. French, 102 minutes.
C’est mélodramatique, non? You Will Be My Son is the tale of a Bordeaux vineyard owner who’s eternally dissatisfied with his son. When his beloved caretaker’s son arrives from California, it’s clear the winery’s ownership may be transferred outside of the family, sparking an operatic rivalry. Critics who’ve seen the film are unanimous in their praise of its acting: “The pic’s pleasures are numerous, starting with its talented cast,” Variety’s Boyd van Hoeij wrote, singling out Niels Arstrup. The Playlist’s Gabe Toro describes him as “a force of nature who grabs his scenes by the throat and never lets go.”
And in the shorts division . . . (all screenings at SIFF Cinema Uptown.)
I Am What I Eat
3:30 p.m., Fri., May 24.
A former cameraman for Anthony Bourdain asks people on the street to describe what they’d choose for their final meals.
6 p.m., Fri., May 24.
Five teenagers share a meal at an eating-disorders clinic.
Little Plastic Figure
9 p.m., Sun., May 26.
In this stop-motion film, a white figurine makes spaghetti.
Best if Used By
6:30 p.m. Mon., May 27.
Maggie’s boyfriend Max dies, so the resourceful grocery clerk keeps his body in the store’s cooler.