In Umami, Gerard Depardieu plays Gabriel Carvin, a jaded chef of a 3 starred restaurant in France. After a heart-attack leads to a late-life crisis, during which an impromptu hypnosis session at the hands of an old friend leads to him deciding to go to Japan in search of the man who beat him at a cooking competition several decades earlier.
Umami is a trilingual film with dialogue in French, English and Japanese. The narration is in Japanese. This was an interesting choice and made the audience’s immersion into each of the cultures more believable.
The film is slow with lots of snippets that don’t appear to add anything to the film. It is also quite disjointed and while we understand the intention is probably to show the contrasting lives of the various characters, the splicing is at times quite jarring.
It takes more than an hour for anything of significance to happen in Umami. Then you’re in for a bit of a wild ride. The characters that Tetsuichi takes Gabriel to meet in his quest to understand and appreciate the essence of umami will have you wondering if you may have had your drink spiked or accidentally induced a magic mushroom. These characters and the plot become increasingly weird.
Throughout the film, there is a lot of obvious imagery such as the hanging display of heart-shaped ornaments when Gabriel is in the hospital after a heart attack and 5 bypasses. There are also cutesy images such as throwing snowballs or meeting across a Tiffany lamp. The plot is also quite predictable with the way characters will come together and interact.
Umami’s director Slony Sow has worked with Gerard Depardieu before, casting him in his short film “Grenouille d’Hiver” (Winter Frog). Apart from Depardieu, Umami also stars Pierre Richard (who you may remember from Mr Stein goes online from AFFFFF 2017), who is great in his role as the quirky, eccentric Rufus, Gabriel’s friend and godfather to his son, Nino (played by Rod Paradot).
In a tiny capsule hotel on his first night in Japan, Gabriel meets a business man (played by Kyôzô Nagatsuka). There is great on-screen rapport between these two characters. The businessman speaking Japanese and English but no French and Gabriel speaking only French is quite amusing. In one amusing scene, Gabriel is raving on about his woes while the businessman focuses on slurping up his cup of noodles.
Tetsuichi Morira (played by Kyozo Nagasuka) is the chef that beat Gabriel all those years earlier and his small but very popular ramen restaurant is quite a contrast to the posh establishment Monsieur Quelqu’un that Gabriel runs back in France.
Eriko Takeda plays a depressed young Japanesse girl, Fumi. For a while we’re unsure how she fits into the picture but as the movie progresses it becomes clear.
Umami director Slony Sow is more accustomed to short films than features (Umami being his second) and the lack of structure of Umami and the wasted first hour make us feel like perhaps he is better at writing short films. It’s been billed as a comedy-drama yet the majority of the film doesn’t feel like a comedy at all. There are a few funny moments but these are rare in the drawn-out film.
The soundtrack is varied and interesting. Claude Francois’ Alexandrine Alexandra is sung by Gerard Depardieu and Pierre Richard in one scene. A Japanese childhood song (Mahouno Pinku) is the soundtrack to the beginning of Gabriel’s day with Tetsuichi.
We are unfamiliar with Japanese cinema but note that Umami is unlike other French films we have seen. We wonder whether it was perhaps written with Japanese audiences in mind. It hasn’t yet been released in France and won’t be until next month. We’re curious to see how the French public and critics will review Umami.
Overall, Umami is a film that was drawn-out, and predictable with only about 20 minutes of craziness to wake audiences back up.
Matilda Marseillaise watched a screener of the film.
KEY INFO FOR AFFFF 2023
WHAT: Alliance Française French Film Festival 2023 (AFFFF 2023) – the 34th edition of the largest celebration of French film outside of France!
WHERE & WHEN:
Adelaide, SA: 23rd March to 19th April – Palace Nova Eastend Cinemas, Palace Nova Prospect Cinemas
Bendigo, VIC: 21st to 23rd April – Star Cinema
Brisbane, QLD: 15th March to 12th April – Palace James Street, Palace Barracks
Gold Coast, QLD: 29th March to 16th April – Dendy Southport
Byron Bay, NSW: 16th March to 5th April – Palace Byron Bay Sydney, NSW: 7th March to 5th April – Palace Central, Palace Verona, Palace Norton St, Chauvel Cinema, Hayden Orpheum Cremorne Melbourne, VIC: 8th March to 5th April – Palace Cinema Como, Palace Balwyn, Palace Brighton Bay, Palace Westgarth, The Astor Theatre, The Kino, Pentridge Cinema Perth, WA: 8th March to 5th April – Luna Leederville, Luna on SX, Windsor Cinema, Palace Raine Square, Camelot Outdoor Cinema Canberra, ACT: 9th March to 5th April – Palace Electric Cinema Hobart, TAS: 9th to 19th March – State Cinema Port Pirie, Renmark, Whyalla, Mount Gambier: 24th March to 26th March – Northern Festival, Chaffey Theatre, Middleback Arts Centre, Sir Robert Helpmann Theatre Parramatta, NSW: 29th March to 2nd April – Riverside Theatre Parramatta Victor Harbour, SA: 3rd and 10th April – Victa Cinema
HOW: The full program of 39 films can be viewed at the official Alliance Française French Film Festival 2023 website via this link: https://www.affrenchfilmfestival.org/
HOW MUCH: Ticket prices vary between cities and there are also discounted festival passes available if you want to see several films. (NB You will need to pick the films and sessions when purchasing the pass)
See below for more AFFFF content
Our picks from the Alliance Française French Film Festival 2023 program
Alliance Française French Film Festival 2023 first 15 films announced
A good Doctor delivers a dose of hilarity in the unexpected
Country Cabaret: a fun farm film to see at AFFFF 2023
Final Cut: a comedic zombie film that’s even for people who don’t like horror or gore
Happy 50/Plancha is about a group vacation gone wrong
Jack Mimoun and the Secrets of Val Verde is a fun adventure
In On the wandering paths, Jean Dujardin takes the path less travelled
Paris Memories traces the difficulties of being a survivor of the Paris terrorist attacks
Ride Above is an inspiring, but predictable, film about finding the courage to ride again
Sugar and Stars: an inspiring tale about the road to sweet success
Silver Rockers: a film inspired by the story of rocker retirees from Normandy
The Colours of Fire: an heiress seeks revenge
The Origin of Evil is a must-see film this AFFFF
Which films won at the César 2023 and where you can watch them
To discover other events with French and francophone links happening in your city, check out our What’s on in April article.