The new Danish film “A Taste of Hunger” opens with a quote from the late novelist Kathy Acker, “If you ask me what I want, I’ll tell you. I want everything.” It’s a fitting intro to this stirring relationship drama masquerading as a foodie flick. Don’t misunderstand, we get several visual helpings of exquisitely shot cuisine. But the cooking is mostly dressing. The main dish is the souring dynamic between a husband and wife whose lofty goals begin to tear an otherwise loving couple apart.
The film is directed by Christoffer Boe who co-writes the script alongside Tobias Lindholm. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Lindholm also penned the exceptional dramas “Another Round” and “The Hunt” alongside Thomas Vinterberg. Here the Danish duo use the setting of Denmark’s cooking scene to explore the consequences of unbridled ambition.
Carsten (Nikolaj Costner-Waldau) and Maggie (an absolutely phenomenal Katrine Greis-Rosenthal) are a culinary power couple who own Malus, a trendy high-end restaurant in the heart of Copenhagen. Carsten is a master-chef with a ferocious drive. He trained in Japan before opening his own eatery back home. Maggie is a sharp-witted anthropologist with a sharp eye for what people like.
Yet despite their successful privileged lives; despite having two beautiful children; despite owning one of their city’s premiere restaurants, there’s one thing that has kept them from being truly satisfied and content – the coveted Michelin star and the prestige and recognition that accompanies it. They crave it, particularly Carsten who has let it drive him to the point of obsession.
Chopped into chapters and moving back-and-forth through time, “A Taste of Hunger” reveals what brought Carsten and Maggie together as well as what tore them apart. In the current day, we see the couple desperate to repair the damage done by a bad oyster starter. They think it may have been served to a visiting undercover Michelin rep rumored to have visited their restaurant that evening. If they can track down the representative, perhaps they can convince him/her to give them another shot.
But it’s the flashbacks that give us the bigger picture and ultimately fill out this complicated relationship. Through them Boe shows us how the Carsten and Maggie met, the near instant attraction, and the intense passion marking the beginning stages of their marriage. In these early scenes, Boe and his cinematographer Manuel Alberto Claro shoot the couple with the same sensuous gaze as they do the cuisine. But it’s the performances that really bring these characters to life. Costner-Waldau and Greis-Rosenthal have a fierce chemistry that comes through with every scene they share.
While Carsten and Maggie seem to have a magnetic connection, the later flashbacks show what happens once their dogged pursuit of culinary fame takes precedent over their homelife. Soon both their marriage and their children are suffering, which sends the story down some ugly paths. Some of these scenes teeter close to the melodramatic, but Boe keeps everything grounded and honest. And (once again) the performances are crucial, especially Greis-Rosenthal who’s asked to navigate a thornier range of emotions. She’s sublime.
“A Taste of Hunger” takes an unflinching look at a crumbling marriage and it does so without casting judgement or taking sides. In fact, each time our sympathies shift from one spouse to the next, something happens to yank us back to the center. The real heartache comes with the children. Boe and Lindholm do a great job relaying the impact of the parents’ neglect, mostly through the eyes of their young daughter Chloe (an astonishingly good Flora Augusta). It adds kick that’s as painful as it is palpable. “A Taste of Hunger” is now streaming on VOD.