Peter Strickland is one of those directors I like well enough to keep track of, but I never really expected him to deliver a personal favorite. I'm always happy to see him come out with a new project, and so it didn't take much convincing to give Flux Gourmet a fair shot. I hadn't really read up on the film beforehand, so I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. That's probably the best way to experience this film, unless you prefer to prepare yourself for the strange and surreal world Strickland unleashes. He goes full-on weird here, and it makes his work all the more enjoyable.
Strickland is one of those directors I assume sits well with the A24 crowd. The previous films I've seen were all pretty interesting and unique, but also a bit restrained and held back by their arthouse aesthetic. With Flux Gourmet, Strickland finally leans into the weirdness and fully commits to it, delivering a film that goes well beyond the expected and seems very much unafraid to scare off people who aren't entirely on board with Strickland's peculiarities. It's exactly this commitment that I found somewhat lacking in his previous work, so I'm very happy to see him break down that wall.
The theme of the film isn't something I usually appreciate, delving into the world of creators and artists. Their relationship with sponsors/producers is a fickle one and does provide the necessary food for thought, but it's not easy to keep a film like this from becoming too self-absorbed. Strickland does his best to show both sides of the story, but ultimately it's the comedy and the willingness to poke fun at both camps that makes Flux Gourmet bearable. Both the artists and the financiers are blowhards who love to make each other's lives as difficult as possible, and to see them clash is simply delightful.
The plot revolves around a nameless art collective who are enjoying a prestigious scholarship. They make food, use that process to create music and add theatrical performances on top. It's incredibly artsy-fartsy, but they take their work extremely serious. The whole ordeal is documented by a writer for hire, who is suffering from extreme flatulence. Things start going sideways when the leader of the collective is unwilling to take pointers from the financers, it gets even trickier when one of the members of the collective starts a relationship with the woman who runs the program.
Strickland's film are always properly stylized, Flux Gourmet is no exception. I think he could've gone even bigger and bolder still, but that's just a bit of personal nitpicking. The compositions are superb, the costumes almost magical, the setting is used to great effect and the light/color play in several scenes is more than remarkable. The camera work is maybe a bit too formal and the visual impact can be a little inconsistent, but that at least means there are some obvious highlights. All in all, it's a pretty good-looking film, it just won't burn itself into your retinas.
The reason why I may be a bit extra critical of the cinematography has no doubt to do with the score and sound design. Strickland loves to play with sound, and he really goes all out here. The noisy soundtrack is cool in its own right, but the way it is used and tweaked throughout the film is simply insane. It's one of those rare times when I felt my home setup probably didn't do full justice to all the noise coming out of it. Mind you, it is pretty divisive and people not too familiar with noise music may want to bring an extra earplug or two. I loved it though, and I wish Strickland could find a way to bring a similar intensity to his visuals for maximum effect.
The cast had their work cut out for them. Luckily Strickland could rely on a group of talented actors who seemed more than capable of marrying the serious with the silly without really having to change character. Gwendoline Christie is the true star of the film, Fatma Mohamed also deserves accolades. Labed and Butterfield shine in supportive roles, while Richard Bremmer goes delightfully over-the-top as the kooky in-house doctor. Papadimitriou is probably the only one with a more straight-faced part, though his character certainly isn't without comedy. A great cast if I ever saw one.
Flux Gourmet is a film that makes you work. There isn't all that much exposition and its universe looks deceptively normal on the surface, but every single detail adds to the weirdness and most of it is shown and/or mentioned with a breezy carelessness, as if it's the most normal thing in the world. It's this discovery that makes this film such a lovely adventure, and which kept my eyes glued to the screen. It's definitely not going to be everyone's cup of tea, certainly not in this day and age, where creativity and originality are generally sniffed at, but Strickland hits my sweet spot full on.
Sometimes you think you know a director, and he still manages to surprise you. Moments like these are exceedingly rare as I watch more and more films, so they deserve to be treasured. Flux Gourmet was such a film for me. It's not that I didn't appreciate Strickland's earlier work, I just didn't see him take it any further. In a case like, I'm always glad to be proven wrong though. Flux Gourmet looks great, sports an awesome soundtrack and insane sound design, the cast is great and the mix of self-deprecating comedy feels like a breath of fresh air. I wholeheartedly hope Strickland continues down this path.