If you’re familiar with the work of filmmaker Peter Stickland, you will already be aware of the levels of satire, absurdity and dementedness that revolves around his work. Whether it’s department store ghost stories in In Fabric, or the lesbian love affiars of a moth-obsessed doctor in The Duke of Burgundy, Strickland always manages to create engaging, yet disturbingly hilarious black comedies in a variety of scenarios, situations and places, all with a signature aesthetic and style that some could call pretentious filmmaking, but as a fan of his work, would believe that that sort of filmmaking is exactly what he is making fun of… while replicating it so well!
Like many movies, the less you know about Flux Gourmet, the better. I went into the movie relatively blind, only having seen a poster and reading the IMDb synopsis, which is as follows: ‘Set at an institute devoted to culinary and alimentary performances, a collective finds themselves embroiled in power struggles, artistic vendettas and gastrointestinal disorders’.. In a nutshell, that really does sum up the heightened, surrealist comedy that, in the most devilishly enjoyable way possible, is a strong culmination of everything that Stickland does so well as a filmmaker.
The aforementioned collective involves three culinary-based musicians (or to be more accurate, performance artists), they are: collective leader, Elle (Fatma Mohamed), and band members, Lamina (Ariana Labed) and Billy (Asa Butterfield). The three, who were specially selected by institute head and all-around eccentric, Jan Stevens (Gwendoline Christie), spend their days in a specific routine to assist their creative process. By waking up in perfect synchronisation, lighting a breakfast cigarette and taking a long, silent morning walk, their creative minds thrive with ideas of creating surreal performances for Jan and her high-society friends. The catch being, their performances involve the preparation and cooking of the meal that will be consumed by the patrons watching on. However, when a rift between the collective begins, authority shifts between band members and the wheels slowly begin to fall off.
The majority of the story is told through the narration and viewpoint of Stones (Makis Papadimitriou), a ‘hack’ (or more thoughtfully, a documentarian), who has been hired to track and record the collective’s process during their time at the institute. All the way from following them on their walks, to sleeping in the same shared room with them, and more personally, interviewing them each about the events in their lives that brought them to the institute. However, Stones is suffering from a severe bout of doctor-prescribed indigestion. Something that is weighing on him heavily, as we discover through his narration, is the constant need to fart, but not wanting to fart in front of the collective, is causing him great pain and distress.
Throughout the interviews with the collective, Stones more often than not uncovers more than he bargained for, from eating disorders, abusive relationships with family, and nipple-related sexual desires, all information used by Jan Stevens to direct the collective in a way where she shows her power and control. This is something that does not sit well with Elle, who more often than not, rebels against the criticism and feedback from Jan, usually to the dismay of her bandmates. Stickland’s ability to explore the most abstract of themes, but make them feel oddly real within the movie’s world is a strong testament to his screenwriting ability.
WIth a story this surreal, and quite frankly, weird (but again, still thoroughly enjoyable), if the visual aesthetic didn’t feel heightened, the movie would probably not work. Thankfully, Stickland has a keen artistic eye, with many shots, scenes and sets relaying that exacerbated feeling of absurdity, that slowly devolves into a more demented and distrubing state as the story develops. Using a bold variety of colour schemes and over-the-top costuming, the immediate awareness that you, as an audience, are indeed watching a ‘movie’ allows for complete immersion into this wacky world that Strickland has created.
Another fantastic element is the sound design, especially during the performance art scene, are truly on another level. Bombastically loud, often erupting through the cinemas speakers, the array of sounds from mouths, food, kitchen utensils, and at one point, the insides of a man during a colonoscopy, create a soundscape that is unique and mesmerising, working as a form of hypnosis to keep drawing the audience further and further into the film’s insanity.
Flux Gourmet may not be a smooth introduction into Peter Strickland’s work. This is a film that works as a natural progression in his ever evolving, but truly abstract filmography. Fans of his previous work will enjoy the familiarity of the insanity, but will also feel refreshed by Stickland’s ability to create a new story, with new characters. In a new world. The snowball effect of dementedness is as disturbing as it is hilarious, and is a great addition into Strickland’s line of work.
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