“Yes, Chef!” Even if you’re only remotely familiar with last year’s hit FX show The Bear, you know the expression by now. There has been a healthy portion of gastronomy-themed films and series set in the food service industry in the last few years–let alone documentaries and cooking shows. One might get the feeling that David Oesch’s Cru is part of a larger trend of stories that stimulate our tastebuds while showing the unappetizing underbelly of this stressful profession. But it is worth pointing out that Cru was made in 2019, before the success of The Bear, and as is often the case with short films, the narrative is a distillation of the various themes found in similar examples.
At first, the dishes in Cru look mouthwateringly delicious, framed like Instagram-able food porn, but this feeling is soon replaced by the palpable tension among the kitchen staff, while they hustle to prepare the food for a high-class restaurant. It doesn’t take long before the stakes are raised even more when the demanding head chef inspects the staff’s creations and requests perfection. The pulsating atmosphere becomes more and more tense, until the pressure gets too much and the work takes its toll. For a moment, the film slows down and finds the chef and the Cuisinière sharing a seemingly heartfelt moment, until the tension boils over…
David Oesch’s direction emulates the intensity and anxious pace of working under these conditions, which are reflected in lead actress Jeanne Werner’s performance. Her character expects the most of herself, but she also gives a face to the humaneness on the brink of exasperation underneath the constant agitation. The film manages to make us feel as if we’re right there with her, supported by Elias Jutzet’s fidgety, yet rhythmic, editing and Ramón Königshausen’s floating camerawork.
For those who have worked on a film set, it isn’t far-fetched to see the parallels between the worlds of filmmaking and haute cuisine. In both professions, a motley crew of people work in an environment that feels like its own little subculture, with its own rules and particular kinds of relationships, all the way down to interpersonal abuse. It takes ambition, determination and sacrifice to reach the heights of a profession that demands even more once you’re finally a part of it.
“The self-exploitation disguised as passion in art is not very foreign to me”
Those who do not work in these industries might imagine that the work itself is magical and enjoyable, because that’s what the finished product represents to the consumer, like an exquisite meal or an impressive film. The thing you have to show for all your pain and dedication is the final product. But like the characters in Cru, one must decide if all of that is worth it. Writer/director David Oesch sums it up best with his explanation for what motivated him to make the film:
“I wanted to give a voice to my friends who work in the hospitality industry, often as chefs. To show the dirty, brutal side of this world but also to give an idea of how hard-working these people are and where they get their motivation from. As a director, the self-exploitation disguised as passion in art is not very foreign to me.“
Let’s just hope that his set wasn’t as hectic and stress-inducing as the kitchen in Cru, even if the film itself makes for a worthwhile viewing experience.