I'm not sure if everything in Flux Gourmet makes total sense. Then again, I don't really care, either. This new film from director Peter Strickland (The Duke of Burgundy) is weird-with-a-capital-A in the best possible way. It has a look and a style all its own, with a kooky plot that forges a unique path in tacking themes related to art, ego, and the nature of collaboration. You won't get any kind of traditional payoff from this story, but you'll take delight in every demented twist along the way.
The story is set at an institute dedicated to culinary performance art. That's right - art utilizing food. A new collective has just come on board. Elle (Fatma Mohamed) is the temperamental leader who refuses to compromise her vision in any way. Lamina (Ariane Labed) is moody and easily steamrolled by Elle. Billy (Asa Butterfield) provides sonic elements to the show, which involves things like covering the nude Elle in pasta sauce while she pantomimes being shot. The trio works to develop a new piece. Elle, however, refuses to accept any input whatsoever from Jan (Gwendoline Christie), the institute's head and, by extension, their benefactor. Stones (Makis Papadimitriou), a journalist with serious digestive issues, documents what goes on - when he isn't running to the bathroom, that is. (Flatulence plays a major role in the story.)
Flux Gourmet looks at how all these people clash. Lamina and Billy have ideas, although it's clear Elle holds the final say. Jan rightly believes her notes should be considered during the development process; Elle flat-out refuses to even hear them. The pressure to come up with something special leads to increasingly bizarre - and sometimes gross - workshopping sessions. One of them, inspired by Stones, finds Elle appearing to eat that which should not be eaten. Late Pink Flamingos star Divine would approve.
The pleasure comes from how utterly insane the scenario is. All the characters are slightly exaggerated, with colorful personalities and peculiar quirks. We watch as they alternately butt heads and coalesce to create a food-related piece designed to shock. Rather than relaying this in a conventional fashion, Strickland focuses on the most eccentric moments that offer the most outrageous behavior. He's satirizing the self-absorption that comes from artists who take themselves too seriously.
Backing that up is the movie's visual scheme. Whereas most films make food look beautiful, it's ugly here, perhaps to symbolize the toxicity with which the group operates. And you definitely don't walk away hungry after seeing how it's utilized. Use of atmospheric lighting in some sequences adds to the allure, as does the heightened tone of the on-stage scenes. In perhaps the slyest joke, what Elle, Lamina, and Billy concoct doesn't appear to have any particular message. They go through a lot of conflict to come up with not much.
All the actors are good, with Fatma Mohamad the standout. She turns Elle into a toxic art bully, yet infuses her performance with a hint of humor so we know it's okay to laugh at her. Vivid characterization and an audacious attitude combine to guarantee Flux Gourmet is a picture that continually prods and surprises. I'm not sure it says anything new about the formation of art or the challenges of difficult people, but the film definitely casts a peculiar spell that keeps you invested in what this deranged crew is cooking.
out of four
Flux Gourmet is unrated, but contains nudity/sexual content and some violence. The running time is 1 hour and 51 minutes.