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'FLUX GOURMET' - A VISUALLY STUNNING BUT FRUSTRATING FILM THAT STUMBLES BETWEEN COMEDY AND HORROR.
Score: 2 1/2 out of 5
If you think watching performance art is as fun as washing your shoelaces, then 'Flux Gourmet' is going to be your new miracle cure for insomnia. But for those who like the uneasy merging of comedy and horror, you'll find a mildly interesting diversion that could have been so much more.
Elle (played by Fatma Mohamed), Lamina (played by Ariane Labed) and Billy (played by Asa Butterfield) are an experimental performance art group who incorporate sounds from cooking and chopping food into their shows. They're in residence at an artistic institution run by the eccentric Jan Stevens (played by Gwendoline Christie), where journalist Stones (played by Makis Papadimitriou) interviews them and details each of their performances. As the days pass, Jan passive-aggressively tries to put her mark on Elle's group and their performances, causing friction and creative differences between Elle, Lamina and Billy. Meanwhile, Stones is dealing with severe stomach issues that are getting harder and harder to control. Elle, fascinated by Stones and his gastrointestinal issues, finds new inspiration incorporating him into her shows.
The visuals in 'Flux Gourmet' reminded me of Jean Rollin's work. There's a repeating sequence where Elle and her group wake up in their tiny dorm hut each morning and walk over to the main institute building, Elle wearing a long flowing cloak as Lamina and Billy dutifully walk behind her. A waltz-like score plays as they walk. It was reminiscent of Jean Rollin's films such as 'The Shiver of the Vampires', where ethereal cloaked figures glide through sunlit forests, simultaneously beautiful and malevolent.
Director Peter Strickland keeps things bizarre and off-kilter. He never accelerates through a scene, he settles in and lets us feel every weird twitchy moment between the characters. This especially holds true for Stones, whose stomach issues keeps him in a constant state of distress, constantly struggling to keep his flatulence at bay in social settings.
During the first dinner scene, where he, Elle's group, Jan and a few distinguished patrons dine and give speeches, the camera glides around the table, and always in the background is poor beleaguered Stones, in obvious discomfort and gently caressing his belly. It creates an odd kind of tension, as we brace for Stones to make the supreme social faux pas of breaking wind amidst a formal dinner party.
Fatma Mohamed's Elle is a force of nature. Simultaneously majestic and vulgar, she'll go to any lengths to create the "perfect art". With her husky, three packs of cigarettes a day voice and her icy stoicism, she owns the movie. Especially enjoyable are her interactions with Gwendoline Christie's Jan Stevens, as Jan tries to insinuate her own ideas into Elle's performances, and Elle doesn't budge an inch.
The performances themselves, involving blenders, skillets, pulpy food and ASMR-style soundwaves, are amazing. Unless you're an underground performance addict who's seen every live show known to man, I guarantee you've never seen anything quite like this. I could never tell whether Strickland was trying to parody performance art or embrace the bizarre nuances of it. And ultimately, that's the main problem with the film, a lack of focus and theme.
After a strong first half, the film sputters along to a conclusion, never going all-in on the comedy aspects, the horror or the drama, but waffling around between different moods. What could have been an amazing horror-tinged version of "This is Spinal Tap" for performance artists, where we follow Elle and her group bickering hilariously while putting on shows, instead floats around between too many characters. Is the movie supposed to be about Elle and her group? About Stones dealing with his stomach issues? Or maybe Jan and her need to control everyone?
There's no denying the fact that the film's cinematography is beautiful, but having too many characters and diversions makes the film go from darkly fun to excruciatingly boring by the time we reach the finale.
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