Saturday, April 27, 2019

Nate Hood serves us 400 words on A Taste of Sky (2019)

There’s considerable room for accusations of Michael Lei’s A Taste of Sky being a white savior narrative, something which the film itself is intensely aware. So it overcorrects, doubling back on itself time and time again to reassure the audience that the people at its center are compassionate human beings irregardless of race. And economic background. And cultural prestige. Whether we believe them depends on the individual viewer, for the total lilt of the film is too scattered and muddled to come to any conclusion other than self-congratulatory satisfaction.

What is this documentary about? That’s a good question. At first, we think it’s Danish chef extraordinaire Claus Meyer who, through his world-renowned Copenhagen restaurant Noma, helped spark the New Nordic Cuisine movement of the early 2000s. We learn how, reluctant to rest on his laurels, he turned his attentions to Bolivia, the poorest country in South America where a quarter of the population struggles with hunger despite having one of the most diverse agricultural bases in the world. In the capital city of La Paz, he opened Gustu, a fine-dining restaurant and school aimed at training a new generation of Bolivian chefs, drawing their student body primarily from impoverished and/or indigenous populations. Meyer’s intentions of sparking a food revolution in such a destitute country are noble, but do we buy them?

The film overcompensates for our doubts with repeated scenes of Meyer’s own young daughter interviewing him about his tragic, impoverished upbringing in post-war Denmark and how he hopes to change the world with food. (At one point she quotes Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “What is a legacy” speech, the second of two Hamilton references in the film.) But what of the Bolivians, we ask? The film alternates between two of Meyer’s students, one an Amazonian hunter, the other an Andean farmer. Every time they appear we get a glimmer of what the film could and should have been about—eager young chefs scouring marketplaces for ulupika peppers, chopping and splitting wild palmetto trees into strips the size and texture of noodles, herding llamas while discussing recipes with relatives.

But the siren call of slow-motion close-ups and swelling string music prove too strong, and the brief glimmers of reality congeal into inspiration pablum. (Tellingly, the film side-steps any discussion of the European colonialism that caused and exacerbated Bolivia’s economic and cultural poverty. Whoops.)

Rating: 4/10

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