Peter Strickland has firmly established himself as one of the most intriguing and exciting filmmakers working today with his films that invite viewers into worlds that just barely look like our own. And with Flux Gourmet he continues his streak of strange, unsettling but undeniably alluring films set in worlds unlike anything else.
Flux Gourmet centers on a trio of artists, Elle (Fatma Mohamed), Billy (Asa Butterfield), and Lamina (Ariana Labed), the head of the institute where they have a residency Jan (Gwendoline Christie), and writer/journalist Stones (Makis Papadimitriou) who has been tasked with documenting the residency. But these aren’t any artists like we’ve seen before, they are “sonic caterers” and the institute is specifically an institute of sonic catering, an art form that turns the culinary arts into music.
Flux Gourmet feels like a companion piece to David Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future from earlier this year. Both films are explicitly about art, performance, and transgression. They both take a specific interest in what that art means to the artists who make it, and the relationship between performance, personal history, and the body. And like Crimes of the Future, Flux Gourmet isn’t quite a horror movie, but certainly plays with imagery, style, and concepts that would be at home in horror.
As with all of Strickland’s films, there’s something off about the world of the film, something that makes it impossible for viewers to ever feel comfortable in this universe. It also makes the film more unnerving that our point-of-view character, Stones who offers some voiceover in Spanish throughout the film, is experiencing gastrointestinal distress and is constantly attempting to hide the sounds of his farts and “fecal expulsions” (as he calls them) from the collective. Add to that the fact that all three members of the collective hate one another after years of working together and various romantic couplings and decoupling, and it’s clear that even if the film took place in our world there would be enough tension to twist viewers’ stomachs.
But there’s more than interpersonal drama and the strangeness of a world unlike our own to push viewers’ buttons here. The performances of the collective are striking, they are combination performance art and noise music sets that seek to excite and provoke. At first through a combination of nudity, food, and self-harm, then through scatalogical experimentation, and finally by including Stones’ medical procedures, including a colonoscopy, in the performances. It seems fitting that in a movie about art, the performances are the best aspect of the film.
The interviews Stones conducts with the artists, which are broken up by the film’s brightly colored title cards that introduce each new week at the institute, are also fascinating, and like Crimes of the Future highlight that simply watching people talk about art can make for gripping cinema. But as with some of Strickland’s other work, the film eventually feels a bit overloaded with ideas, all of which are interesting, but some of which feel unnecessary. There’s a regular return to “the shops,” a performance exercise in which Jan directs the artists to mime a variety of shopping experiences, that undoubtedly provides a great stage for the performers (both as characters in the film and as actors) but ends up feeling as though it adds more time to the film’s nearly two hour runtime than it needs.
And yet, it’s impossible to make any objective statements about what is and isn’t necessary in a film so full of different concepts as some viewers will likely be engaged by aspects others find unnecessary and others may be disgusted by what some see as the most valuable and thrilling moments. It’s a difficult film to judge because it so clearly has its own goals that don’t align with any standard ideas of what a drama, horror, or art film should be. What can be said definitively is that it’s visually striking, thought-provoking, and unnerving. In other words, it’s a Peter Strickland film.
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