Title: STEP UP TO THE PLATE (Entre les Bras)
Director: Paul Lacoste
Cast: Michel Bras, Sébastian Bras, Olivier Roellinger, Michel Troisgros, Pascal Barbot, Alain Passard, Gerald Passedat, Nadia Santini, Pierre Gagnaire
Screened at: Review 2, NYC, 8/28/12
Opens: September 14, 2012
With a baseball metaphor aptly chosen to entitle a story of a chef’s passing the cutlery and dishes to his son, “Step Up to the Plate” takes a look at a high-end restaurant in the South of France that boasts a coveted three stars from the Michelin guide book. If the story is not as quaint as the recent “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” (an 85-year-old sushi master with a basement restaurant passes the business on to his son) or as alarming as “Sushi: The Global Catch” (too much fishing will soon deplete the bluefish tuna population), Paul Lacoste’s documentary affords its audience part of the mythic resonance that informs the hesitant retirement of the older generation in favor of youth.
While the surprisingly slim master chef Michel Bras sniffs critically at his Sébastian’s inventive culinary creations, we are fairly certain that their restaurant in the Aubrac region of south France will continue to prosper albeit with the individualistic preferences of the younger man. Lacoste, directing his first full-length doc, avoids having his subjects talk directly to the camera or to an interviewer—the bane of documentary filmmaking—instead dividing the tale into the four seasons of a single year, the characters communicating with one another instead of the lenses.
Fans of the now defunct Martha Stewart TV program can be assured plenty of footage of the two at work, though “Step Up to the Plate” does not rivet the attention of foodies the way reality programs do by setting up competitions between chefs, giving competitors a limited time to prepare their concoctions using the available supplies.
We note how family privileges are passed down through the generations, in much the way that young people whose fathers or mothers are physicians are motivated to pursue medicine, moving right into their parents’ offices when the latter retire. In this case, the Bras’ nine-year-old son, decked out in the full whites of a chef, takes a turn sautéing onions while proceeding to his set of drums where he knocks out a tune to accompany his mom at the piano.
The producers did not scrimp on expenses, setting a sequence in Japan where the French father and son teach Japanese chefs, who seem to understand everything being said without the benefit of translators. To show their lighter sides, both Japanese and French take turns at Karaoke, the latter knocking out a version of the Beatles’ “Michelle,” garnering good-natured teasing “Stick to the kitchen.” In a touch of sad symbolism, Lacoste treats us to a look at cows that have provided warm, raw milk to delight the Bras palates, noting that milking time is over for these cattle, which will now be used only for meat.
For purposes of the doc, the chefs choose to prepare only signature dishes—no meat, little fish—in favor of an elaborate salad with a dozen or more ingredients and one crisp dish made in Japan from tofu. An era is coming to an end but life goes on: same restaurant, different, individualistic dishes.
Unrated. 90 minutes © 2012 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – B
Technical – B+
Overall – B