REVIEW: Flux Gourmet [2022]

Rating: 7 out of 10.
  • Rating: NR | Runtime: 111 minutes
    Release Date: June 24th, 2022 (USA)
    Studio: IFC Films
    Director(s): Peter Strickland
    Writer(s): Peter Strickland

It wasn’t the flanger.

Despite centering upon a three-piece artistic collective utilizing culinary accoutrement to manufacture aural soundscapes (band name yet undecided), Peter Strickland‘s bone-dry farce skewering the dynamic between artist, patron, and audience Flux Gourmet isn’t really about any of the above. That’s not to say Stones (Makis Papadimitriou) isn’t a participant within that dynamic, he’s just not included to fill any of those positions. His involvement is instead as an objective observer hired to document the work being accomplished by Elle (Fatma Mohamed), Lamina (Ariane Labed), and Billy (Asa Butterfield) under the stewardship of The Sonic Culinary Institute’s director Jan Stevens (Gwendoline Christie). A self-proclaimed writing “hack”, Stones seeks an avenue in which to tell their communal story. Due to unforeseen circumstances, however, he cannot avoid becoming absorbed into it.

It starts with a bit of indigestion during a photoshoot. Jan sends him off to their in-house doctor (Richard Bremmer‘s Dr. Glock) for a preliminary diagnosis considering any noises coming from Stones might interfere with the amplified noises being made on-stage. It’s probably nothing. Take a pill, don’t eat close to bedtime, and relax. Except none of that seems to be working and the illness is only growing worse considering anxieties that stem from sharing a room with the trio of residents. When not interviewing them, Stones spends most of his time in the bathroom. And while they all sleep in their respective beds, he desperately attempts to keep his flatulence muffled by his covers. Thankfully there’s no smell, at least. A silver lining for a trying time.

Stones becomes our narrator as a result. Strickland shows us moments in which he’s not present, but the lengths the group goes to be honest and authentic with him presumes he knows everything that’s going on anyway. To hear him speak of his struggles is thus as much a running dialogue of his plight as it is a metaphoric encapsulation of the growing animosity between the others. There’s Elle lording her superiority as leader of the band despite Lamina and Billy doing all the real technical work. There’s Jan trying to create a dialogue as their benefactor only to be shutout as a meddler whose ideas are antithetical to Elle’s artistic process regardless of their validity. And even Dr. Glock provides abrasiveness—his pedantically uncouth misogynist always interrupting.

The reason Lamina and Billy stay is because they don’t believe they have the words to bring their music legitimacy. That’s Elle’s appeal as their frontwoman. More than sliding around naked and covered in the blended vegetarian smoothies her bandmates have pulverized for a combination of gooey and mechanical sounds, she is the one selling the message through applications, marketing, and whatever quasi-intellectual mumbo-jumbo any artist uses to hold the finished product above its sometimes-crude presentation. No one is better than Elle at spin, her appeal ensuring every new concert performance is followed by an adulatory orgy joined by those audience members who found themselves filled to the brim with “inspiration.” It’s a laughable embellishment of the fine art world, earnestly presented to facilitate a sublimely silly experience.

Not that it will be for everyone. Flux Gourmet is a Peter Strickland film, after all. Beyond the talk of flatulence (we never hear Stones break wind) is excrement as main course, egg fetishes, nipple-twisting, and a rival collective sabotaging Jan’s quiet nights with aggressive phone calls and abused terrapins. There are also “shopping excursions” wherein Jan leads Elle, Lamina, and Billy through a supermarket pantomime with increasingly weird scenarios. And as time advances, Elle’s “ideas” become less imaginary than appropriated thanks to Stones’ unceasing discomfort. Just as she mesmerizes the crowd, she cajoles him into being her new canvas. Along with the knives, blenders, and soundboards wielded by Lamina and Billy, Elle brings Dr. Glock onto the stage to perform Stones’ colonoscopy live for all to see.

And this is the point. Above the art world backdrop, Strickland states in his director’s notes that the project ultimately became a means towards destigmatizing celiac disease. It’s an ailment that people laugh at as a joke, believing those afflicted are either exaggerating for attention or too easily overcome by low pain thresholds. The opposite is true, though. As we watch Stones’ increasingly public and debilitating devolution juxtaposed against Elle’s over-the-top theatrics, we understand the difference between performative circus and embarrassing reality. Because she is the consummate actor—indignant, childish, avoidant, and untrustworthy. She’s the one who laughs at other’s pain as though it is preposterous and screams with rage when anyone dares to dismiss her “genius” as a comedic bit of overwrought pretentiousness. Elle’s provocations demand applause.

Make sure it’s enthusiastic applause too or she’ll reprimand you. That’s the level of control she craves and what those around her generally provide when someone like Jan isn’t whispering in their ears. Elle wishes she had as much sway as her patron because Jan is a puppet master pulling strings and stirring pots to watch as the art become more volatile and, hopefully, more unforgettable. Fast forward to a wild last supper and you must wonder just how much of what occurs was planned and who was in cahoots considering last second revelations. The walls dissolve until the art and artist merge in a way that renders them both a catalyst for the real finished work: us. Our emotional and visceral reaction becomes what lasts.

The journey’s slow, but never boring. With insane anecdotes, psycho-sexual hang-ups, and overwhelming sensory cues via kitchen close-ups and deafening industrial sound, Flux Gourmet is as unique an experience as any of Strickland’s films. It’s a bit shallower perhaps with its intent and orchestration being ever-present, but no less captivating in its substance. And everyone is having a blast on-screen from Christie’s mischievous agitator to Butterfield’s malleable pushover. Mohamed is probably the most memorable due to her Elle having the most overtly confrontational demeanor, but don’t discount Papadimitriou. His Stones is the heart and soul—the poor, injured bystander refusing to quit who gets wrapped up in the nonsense as his fear of morality rises to a fever pitch. No goodbye is better than finally seeing him smile.

[1] Gwendoline Christie as “Jan Stevens” and Asa Butterfield as “Billy Rubin” in Peter Strickland’s FLUX GOURMET. Courtesy of IFC Midnight. An IFC Midnight release.
[2] Fatma Mohamed as “Elle Di Elle” in Peter Strickland’s FLUX GOURMET. Courtesy of IFC Midnight. An IFC Midnight release.
[3] Ariane Labed as “Lamina Propria” in Peter Strickland’s FLUX GOURMET. Courtesy of IFC Midnight. An IFC Midnight release.

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