The three of us left the cinema in three different, almost dreamlike, states of mind, which made it difficult to speak.
El Somni (The Dream), a movie about the Michelin-decorated Roca brothers, captivates and fascinates by showcasing a very special dinner. One that marks a breakthrough in food and art, as it stretches the boundaries of both, and blurs the borders between them.
The Stars: The Roca brothers, Joan, Jordi, and Joseph (a chef, sommelier and patîssier wizard) run Girona’s El Celler de Can Roca, named the world’s best restaurant in 2013 by San Pellegrino and Aqua Panna.
The Dream: The three brothers dream about creating a Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerks in the form of a opera that touches upon all the senses. One where music intertwines with poetry and visuals, and taking it a step further, taste with melodies, colors and shapes, to come together to melt in the mouth. The subtle poetry of wine lifts one to another realm while smell conjures nameless memories. All of the senses, including the gustatory and olfactory, are wielded together in order to create a never-before-seen perceptory experience.
The Trip: Twelve guests set out on a trip composed of 12 acts, such as space, courtship, death, and glory. It is impossible to keep up with their trip, since nobody apart from these twelve chosen ones invited to the operatic dinner have ever tried the Roca drug. (Those who have include El Bulli chef Ferran Adrià and actress Frida Pinto).
Based on a libretto, where each act is one course and each course represents one emotion, the brothers push boundaries, asking: ‘How does the moon taste? How does space sound? How does it feel to be completely enraptured?’ The moon, we learn, tastes earthy, like truffle, and is served to the hypnotic melody of a woman’s voice. The plate resembles a moonscape, while the table and walls act as a projection screen for smoky and nebulous video animations.
The trip continues through acts of water, hate, and love, with the diner eating his or her way through a world of love and erotism and even through death. In the end, the process of rebirth is symbolized through sourdough ice cream served on ‘breathing’ bread, with the bread actually moving.
The Film: Director and visual artist Frank Aleu gives viewers the chance to be part of the event. He skillfully combines the inspiration, process of production, and the dinner atmosphere itself in order to create a fairytale for our eyes and ears. Aleu succeeds in activating the rest of our senses through our imagination.
The Questionable: How figurative can and should the representation of emotions be? To what extent does the process captivate and transport us or deter and scare us away? Figurativeness, for example, is on display while the act of love is projected on the table during dinner. Although one might praise Aleu for his direction, I am critical of his animations as the eroticism of the situation would have come across stronger in a subtler representation rather than an airplane-security-film-reminiscent computerized couple engaged in the act. The music, acting like an aphrodisiac, turns into a moan while the pigeon breast is prepared to look like a vagina… What sounds absolutely deterring is ambiguous in the Roca script, as it raises the question: how deep can one engage with the direction of thoughts and emotions, if you completely give in to them and let yourself go, losing all inhibitions?
In this case, the pigeon-vagina could have a naturally stimulating, even explosive character, thereby fitting into the fairytale storyline. This raises the question that we as cinemagoers cannot easily answer: how strong is the power of food? What role does the sense of taste play in this multi-sensory experience? It could, for example, trump certain tasteless moments.
Open Questions: The Rocas create a new kind of culinary and sensory experience, but since it revolves around the Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk, one questions remains: What about the relationship between cooking and art? While taking part in this operatic project, does cuisine reach the same level as other arts? Or is it the other way around: Is cuisine dependent on an artistic setting to be art? Two crucial artistic elements, the cook’s creative freedom and the aesthetic of taste (which has nothing to do with the visual aesthetics) can perhaps develop even more purely without the influences of other arts.
Thus, perhaps this opera is less about art than about food. Maybe it is about the act of eating, which the arts serve in taking it to an unimaginable level.
For a hint of the experience, here is a link to the trailer for El Somni:Trailer El Somni