Straight-faced and blithely ironic, Bernard Rapp’s A Matter of Taste is a tale of obsessive love, but here it’s a deranged, Nietzschean self-love obsessed with palate refinement and persona projection. Think of it as The Servant turned inside out, with the relatively simple matter of inverted social roles becoming a parable of corporate co-optation. Based on Philippe Balland’s novel, Rapp’s film begins at a restaurant table. Megalomanic CEO Frédéric Delamont (Bernard Giraudeau, as creepily urbane here as he was in Water Drops on Burning Rocks) insists that prickly temp waiter Nicolas (Jean-Pierre Lorit) presample the entrée. It’s a paranoid gesture as well as a test; soon, Delamont is hiring the happily career-free Nicolas as his official taster, not only of food but of women, fisticuffs, and skyjumping.
A Matter of Taste slyly eases into a psychological absurdism worthy of T. Coraghessan Boyle. The homoeroticism is rippling from the gitgo, but eventually Rapp dismisses it and aims the protagonists’ mentor-acolyte relationship toward a no-surrender pas de deux of brinksmanship and male-bonding zealotry. Delamont’s primary project is to mold Nicolas into an exact proxy for himself: “We’ll have the same taste buds, the same sense of smell.” The required control includes deliberately poisoning Nicolas’s food so he’ll have “the same prejudices” as Delamont, and even banishing him to the Sahara for a spiritual cleansing. Like a eugenic master plan, Delamont’s designs for “true fusion” are demolished by reality, leaving Nicolas scrambling for a free-standing identity.
Adept visually, Rapp delivers the narrative with neo-Hollywood impatience, eliding many of the story’s confrontational turning points and instead visiting the expository residue. But A Matter of Taste‘s largest handicap is restraint: It’s too tasteful. The climactic crisis is a broken leg, and the off-screen denouement is unimaginative. Balland’s weirdo vision of wealth and ego doesn’t escalate as it could have into a codependent purgatory that fully explores the maddening distance between people. Certainly, the distortions of brakeless capitalism are redressed (particularly by Nicolas’s proudly boheme girlfriend), but few of them are demonstrated. The very idea of a hired taster is a sweet stab at aristocratic privilege, but the satire is left unexploited. Starting with a simple, gimmicky setup, Rapp’s movie voyages into resonant psychosocial waters, only to drop anchor at the shallowest point.