Monday, October 1, 2012

NOW, FORAGER: Jason Cortlund & Julia Halperin's food movie you can believe in

TrustMovies enjoys the occasional food documentary, but what he really craves are good narrative food movies. From Like Water for Chocolate to Mediterranean Food, Mostly Martha to Soul Kitchen, Perfect Sense to the film under consideration here, these movies -- having to do with one of the most important of our five senses -- usually offer some interesting ideas about the other four, as well. Really: can you be heavily into taste without also at least somewhat appreciating the visual, audio, tactile and scented? I think not. These movies are usually so damn sexy, too -- and just as often in ways that transform, maybe transgress, certainly titillate, and just possibly open up new uses for an orifice or two.

Now, I admit that the films are also over-the-top, romantic, feel-good affairs that have but a nodding acquaintance with reality as most of us know it. Which is one of the reasons so many of us flock to them. They take us out of our everyday experience. Which brings us to the film under consideration here. NOW, FORAGER (which wins my "favorite title" award for this year) resolutely goes against nearly all that I have stated above. Almost totally unsexy (its protagonists seem too tired after their day's at work to even think about it), unshowy and unaware of much of anything besides fungi (this is a mushroom movie) and taste, the film, from Jason Cortlund and Julia Halperin (shown above, with Ms Halperin on the left) instead shows us the mundane lives of  its foodie couple who forage for wild mushrooms in New Jersey then sell these to upscale restaurants. You know what? The movie fascinates, all the same.

This is the life of a "food" couple as we've seldom if ever seen it: close to the bone, frugal, fixated (on those 'shrooms) and finally at odds. Both parties, Lucien (played by Mr. Cortlund, in an affectless performance that works remarkably well) and Regina (played by the excellent Tiffany Esteb), though they are American-born-and-bred, come from a Basque heritage which they infuse into their culinary concoctions. While Lucien is happy enough living hand-to-mouth, Regina would opt for more security. They argue a lot ("Are you done being grouchy?" she asks him) and finally she decides to take a kitchen job that will ensure them a more permanent income.

Along the way we learn an awful lot about mushrooms -- more, in fact, that I have ever known (and I like fungi) -- and we see some absolutely gorgeous specimens, too (whew, that Lion's Mane!). We learn that, in picking, sometimes a second opinion is necessary. She: "Well, it won't kill anyone." He: "It could mean permanent kidney damage."  And the food preparation on view here beats out a lot of what we've seen at three-star restaurants.

Finally, it's the two main characters, whom we get to know surprisingly well, who make the movie consistently smart and real. We see them, warts and more warts -- particularly Lucien, who can't seem to acknowledge much of anything about himself, his needs, or how he perceives his significant other. Regina is more open (well, she's a woman) but even she has some problems that bear working on. (Really: She's willing to sell a semi-deadly mushroom to a restaurant?)

The movie acknowledges how the workplace controls us, even when, in Regina's case, it's extremely welcoming and helpful (on her first job, at least; her second proves a little more daunting). For his part, Lucien -- after discovering how, even in the field of wild mushroom foraging, power controls all -- accepts temporary, catering-a-party employment from a woman who proves the very picture of clueless entitlement. The scenes involving this gig are spectacularly good: riveting and real but never going over-the-top.

There's no getting around how "small" this movie is. (It's difficult to even imagine its playing in most multiplexes.) From its concerns to its characters, Now, Forager is a tiny independent piece of minor film-making. Yet it's success is absolutely major. The movie, from Argot Pictures, opens this coming Wednesday in New York City at the IFC Center. (Hey -- that's a multiplex!)  You can view all its upcoming playdates, with cities and theaters, by clicking here.

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