Writer/Director Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio and In Fabric showcased the filmmaker’s unique ability to capture the senses, often sensually while exploring surreal social commentary. His latest, Flux Gourmet, once again delivers an immersive sensory experience, this time pushing further into absurdist humor with occasional toe dips into gross-out horror. While not as strong as previous efforts, Flux Gourmet’s satirical exploration of creative control is fascinating, though likely an acquired taste.
Elle di Elle (Fatma Mohamed), Billy Rubin (Asa Butterfield), and Lamina Propria (Ariane Labed) are a sonic collective that’s earned a residency at the Sonic Catering Institute, devoted to culinary and alimentary performance. The trio creates sounds and music from food in avant-garde performances that end in orgies with their audience. Behind the scenes, the trio gets caught up in a power struggle and can’t even come up with a group name. That power struggle gets further thrown into tumultuous territory when the institute’s overseer, Jan Stevens (Gwendoline Christie), attempts to hone their craft. Caught in the middle is Stones (Makis Papadimitriou), a man hired to document the artists while trying to hide his extreme gastrointestinal distress.
Strickland keeps his worldbuilding vague to focus on the character-driven satire. The details behind the Sonic Catering Institute remain obscured, save for Jan Stevens’ ongoing pest problem with a former performance group she rejected for residency. The narrative never ventures beyond the mansion setting either. Through quirky and sometimes downright cringe interactions, Strickland presents his warped culinary version of Spinal Tap to examine the relationship between artists and those that fund them.
That means Flux Gourmet doesn’t veer too far into horror either, save for a few moments that could test your gag reflex. Elle di Elle’s headstrong stubbornness as a self-appointed group leader means she’s willing to take things far to make bold artistic statements, which can and does involve using a stool sample as a medium for expression. Toss in orgiastic psychedelia, occasional bursts of violence, and other debased gastronomic stunts, and you’ve got a pitch-black comedy that bares its horror/midnight fangs when needed.
The cast wholly commits to the madness. Strickland’s frequent collaborator, Mohamed, captures laughs as she plays her character straight, especially when she goes toe to toe with Christie’s overbearing Jan. Papadimitriou grounds the film with his earnest character, and Strickland approaches Stones’ digestive woes with thoughtful tenderness. Farts might be funny, but Strickland doesn’t make Stones or autoimmune disorders the butt of the jokes. Instead, he approaches it as a genuine issue people cope with in the culinary space.
Whether the absurdist humor and eccentric characters work for you ultimately depends on whether you’re on Strickland’s wavelength. It’s a lengthy, languid descent into the weird world of visual arts, but Strickland’s distinct style imbues it all with a sumptuous visual and aural feast. There’s a tactile quality to meat sizzling in skillets or the sensory assaults of artists’ performances. Flux Gourmet offers a smorgasbord of commentary, leaving viewers with a lot to chew on- not all of it so easily digestible. It’s the precise type of strange that’s divisive, but so is art itself.
Flux Gourmet opens in select theaters and On Demand on June 24, 2022.
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