A FilmExposed Film Review
Dir: Michael Hofmann, 2006, Germany/Switzerland, 98mins, German with subtitles
Cast: Josef Ostendorf, Charlotte Roche, Devid Striesow, Max Rüdlinger, Leonie Stepp, Roeland Wiesnekker
Food movies. Gotta love ’em. From Babette’s Feast (1987) to Eat, Drink, Man, Woman (1994), filmmakers love to use cookery as a cinematic metaphor, and it’s seldom advisable watching one on an empty stomach. Eden, a sweet natured romance, is set in a small resort town in the Black Forest, and concerns portly, master chef Gregor (Ostendorf). Lonely, eccentric, but a culinary genius, Gregor serves his unique brand of “erotic cuisine” for a select band of gourmets, and spends his free time at café where he befriends a waitress, Eden Drebb (Roche). Gregor bakes a chocolate cake for Leonie (Stepp), Eden’s daughter who has Down syndrome. The heavenly taste sends mother and daughter into rapture. Eden becomes a regular guest at Gregor’s kitchen, savouring their evening meals just as he comes to love cooking for her. But Eden’s husband, Xaver (Striesow) cannot believe the relationship is platonic. When Eden becomes pregnant, he suspects the worst.
The dinner scenes are delightful. Watching Gregor prepare his dishes with loving care and serve them to a grateful Eden, who relishes every bite, becomes a truly moving experience. Hofmann avoids the cliché of life lessons dispensed via cookery, and instead has the act of preparing, eating and appreciating a gourmet meal represent love being given, received then reciprocated. Ostendorf’s quixotic performance befits a lead character unable to express his feelings in any way except through cookery. Roche’s blissful smile and hushed tones go a long way towards selling the idea of eating as a sensual experience.
Away from the core relationship, things are more problematic. Striesow is agreeably complex as the boorish Xaver, alternately tragic, comic and monstrous, but several peripheral characters are too vague. Why does Xaver’s father take against Gregor almost instantly? What makes Xaver’s traffic cop buddy so certain Eden is unfaithful? Why isn’t his dad surprised? Hofmann’s direction is a little too low key for its own good and the film takes a leftfield lurch into bleak, bloody, darkly humorous territory that feels out of place.
Hofmann claims Eden is a film about the power of love. However, despite the silver lining, ultimately it’s a film about a love that destroys rather than nurtures. And that leaves a rather bitter aftertaste.