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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH TRAN ANH HUNG

My favorite movie of 2023 finally hits theaters this weekend! Telling the story of two chefs falling in love after decades spent working together, The Taste of Things is one of the most heartwarming, life-affirming watches you can hope to experience. Chosen as France’s official Oscar entry, this culinary romance has a lot to offer. Ahead of the film’s US premiere, I was lucky enough to speak with director Tran Anh Hung about spirituality, silence, and his directing style. Enjoy the conversation!

 

One thing that stands out to me during the cooking scenes is your amazing blocking. You’ve mentioned not being too big on rehearsals, so I’m curious how you were able to choreograph those moments. Did the actors have very specific marks to hit?

No, they don’t have marks. I don’t like it. I need them to move freely. Normally, whenever I shoot a scene, I never prepare. I come to the set in the morning and then I decide how to shoot the scene. I discover how to shoot the scene with the actors and everyone at the same time. This is the pleasure of movie making, you know? For the scene at the beginning of the movie, it was so complex that I needed to prepare it with my assistant before the shooting day. The most important thing was that I wanted to shoot it in long shots, so I divided the scene into three long shots. The difficulty was, in one movement, you see the state of one dish, then [when] you move to another dish, it needs to be at the right state in the cooking process, so that was something that’s complicated to put together­­—and also this idea of having very fluid movement of the actors; you have to decide where is the spoon and where is the knife. It needed to look very natural and simple, and that’s quite complex.

 

I heard the kiss was improvised. Are any other moments that were improvised? Do you always leave room for that while shooting?

I never prepare any scenes, except when we have a car chase or the cooking scene, then I have to prepare, but otherwise it’s the day of shooting. Sometimes before starting a movie, I have a meeting with all the actors, and they often ask me ‘how are you going to shoot the movie?’ I always say ‘I won’t know until the day of shooting’ [laughs].

Silence is such a big part of this film. What’s unsaid feels just as important as the dialogue itself. I’m wondering if you can speak to that.

It’s a very important part of the sound that plays in contrast with the noise. If you have a very important scene that needs silence, then you need noise before that. It adds contrast to bring the expressivity of the scene to the audience. The silence is part of the musicality that I try to create with a movie. The musical quality is something that’s quite rare in film. For me, I need to create this feeling of cinema, of movement, of musicality. It’s quite difficult to achieve. I’d like to thank you for that question. It allowed me to express this very important idea for me as a filmmaker.


Does that contrast come alive in the editing room or is it present even at the writing stage of your scripts?

It comes during the shooting. If you don’t have it during the shooting, you won’t have it during the editing. Contrast is something that’s so important. When we finish shooting a scene, I always ask someone to print the first and last frame for me so that when I shoot the next scene three weeks later, I know how I end the scene and what’s the sound, how’s the light, so that when I start shooting the beginning of the next scene I can create the contrast. If I end it bright, then I need to start dark. If I end noisy, I need to start silent. All this is prepared during the shooting, not editing.

Can you talk a bit about the art of adaptation? In your opinion, are directors obligated to be faithful to the text?

You have to be faithful to the emotion that you get from the book. When you adapt an important scene exactly, it doesn’t give the right feeling. You have to adapt the emotions, that’s how you stay faithful. You have to give your own emotion to the audience. This is how you make it personal.

 

In other interviews I’ve heard you say the dream project is a biopic of the Buddha with an entirely feminine cast; I feel that spiritual thread throughout all your work, including this one, and am curious how spirituality influences your directing style.

It’s the most important thing. I’m not religious, but I believe in the sacred. I believe that inside of us there is a place that is sacred, that cannot be destroyed by any kind of drama or tragedy in our life, so this is something I can trust. In my movies, the transcendental style, this idea of being transcendental, is very important. It’s something that needs to lift us a little bit. I have a project about Buddha that I’d like to make, because I would like to hear his diction. It’s a philosophy that’s lasted until today, after 25 centuries, so it’s important.

 

Tarkovsky once said his films are like prayers, and I felt that sentiment being kept alive in this masterpiece of a movie. It was a pleasure to watch, and it was a pleasure to speak with you today.

Thank you very much!

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