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Bicoastal Contenders

Galatea Bellugi, Bonnie Chagneau-Ravoire, Benoît Magimel, and Juliette Binoche in Trân Anh Hùng’s The Taste of Things (2023)

Toward the end of each year, curators in the Department of Film at the Museum of Modern Art present The Contenders, a series that has less to do with placing bets on awards-season long-distance runners than with spotlighting films “that we believe will stand the test of time.” Ten selections will screen at the Hammer Museum’s Billy Wilder Theater in Los Angeles from November 29 through December 14.

In New York, the program is a work in progress. So far, fourteen films are lined up for screenings scheduled through the end of the month, and more titles will be announced as the series carries on through January 10. The Contenders will open at MoMA on Friday with Trân Anh Hùng’s video introduction to The Taste of Things, which Little White Lies editor David Jenkins calls “a very welcome call-back to the ultra-sensual films upon which he made his name, such as 1993’s The Scent of Green Papaya and 2000’s The Vertical Ray of Sun.

Trân, who will take part in a Q&A in Los Angeles on December 4, won the award for Best Director in Cannes for The Taste of Things, which then went on to win the Culinary Zinema Award in San Sebastián. “If there were a foodie film Olympics,” writes Jenkins, “this one would stand in very good stead to duke it out with the likes of Babette’s Feast, Tampopo, Big Night, and Still Walking.

Benoît Magimel plays Dodin Bouffant, a nineteenth-century chef nicknamed “The Napoleon of Gastronomy,” and Juliette Binoche is Eugénie, his cook and lover of many years. For Chris Wisniewski at Reverse Shot, The Taste of Things is “a movie that is simultaneously about food in every possible sense and also not at all, one that treats the acts of cooking and eating with reverence while recognizing in them an entry point to something more profound. But it does so without ever turning these acts into metaphor, instead recognizing them as deeply embedded in human experience.”

May December director Todd Haynes and screenwriter Samy Burch will be in New York on Saturday and in Los Angeles on December 11. Playwright Celine Song, the writer and director of Past Lives, will talk about her first feature with producer David Hinojosa at MoMA next Wednesday, while Grace Lee, the star of Past Lives, will be at the Billy Wilder Theater on December 11.

New Yorkers will be given a chance to catch up with critical favorites like Kleber Mendonça Filho’s Pictures of Ghosts and Lila Avilés’s Tótem, and cinephiles on both coasts will have the opportunity to revisit—and possibly reevaluate—such 2023 heavy-hitters as Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, Hayao Miyazaki’s The Boy and the Heron, and Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon.

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