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El Bulli: Cooking in Progress


Nicholas Ellan
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I was lucky enough to catch this movie at VIFF this week; I guess it's just come out and is trickling through the festival scene before a real release. (Searches turned up no posts... hope I didn't fail.) The movie itself is a beautiful experience, but definitely aimed towards the hardcore foodie, those who have some understanding of how a restaurant works and what Adrià is up to, before entering the theatre. It is a true documentary, not some Hollywood bio-pic: it is explicitly interested in the systematic process of producing the food of El Bulli, chronicling the grueling labour required by the research and experimentation necessary to achieve the fantastic. There is basically zero narrative intervention; the film stands on its own merits as a well edited and beautifully shot compilation of how a season of El Bulli is put together, start to finish. If you were lucky enough to dine there, or never did and want to see what all the fuss is about, it's not to be missed. The glimpse into the "laboratory" phase between seasons, as well as the incredible energy of the brainstorming sessions between Adrià and his head chefs, are worth the price of admission alone. These are masters at work, yet delightfully human. Ferran Adrià is also hilariously animated at times, provoking many explosions of laughter in the theatre with the raise of an eyebrow or an unexpected grimace.

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I saw it at the VIFF here on Wednesday. Found it amazingly boring. It would have worked better as a magazine article. Almost nothing visually interesting happens until the last STILL photographs of the food. I have dined at the American equivalent of El Bulli (Alinea in Chicago) and several of the restaurants of Adria's student Jose Andres so the subject matter was not new to me. But not once during this long movie did I ever see anything that I really wanted to eat. For the price of a ticket ($15) and bus fare ($5) I could have some great food in Vancouver instead of this text book disguised as a movie.

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I saw it at the VIFF here on Wednesday. Found it amazingly boring. It would have worked better as a magazine article. Almost nothing visually interesting happens until the last STILL photographs of the food. I have dined at the American equivalent of El Bulli (Alinea in Chicago) and several of the restaurants of Adria's student Jose Andres so the subject matter was not new to me. But not once during this long movie did I ever see anything that I really wanted to eat. For the price of a ticket ($15) and bus fare ($5) I could have some great food in Vancouver instead of this text book disguised as a movie.

I don't disagree with your criticism. This movie is not food porn, it is highly technical.

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  • 5 months later...

Just wanted to mention that it's streaming on Netflix now--I watched it last night.

Oddly enough, I agree with all of the above critiques--

a fascinating, hard core film about the process at El Bulli. I loved the non intrusive style of film-making--like Frederick Wiseman, a hero of mine. Getting so close to the people of El Bulli was just incredibly enjoyable.

The building & grounds are gorgeous--it all made me wish I'd had a chance to visit there while it was open.

While I loved the intensity of the experimentation with ingredients, nothing I saw during the film made me want to eat any of it--as Adria said, he thought of food as an idea, whether good or bad wasn't too important.

HOWEVER--the final montage of the different dishes that make up a meal changed my mind--they were gorgeous, and looked rather luscious.

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  • 1 month later...
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