The rise of the celebrity chef has released an avalanche of food-centered pics, all impossibly rich and sumptuously lensed. Michael Hofmann's "Eden" wants to enter the field, but from the lackluster visuals to its uneasy balance between the light-hearted and the tragic, pic misses the mark, and there's no stand-out perf to gloss over the flaws.

The rise of the celebrity chef has released an avalanche of food-centered pics, in which cast members mimic mouth orgasms as they launch into chocolates or dim sum or quail in pastry cases, all impossibly rich and sumptuously lensed. Michael Hofmann’s “Eden” wants to enter the field, but from the lackluster visuals to its uneasy balance between the light-hearted and the tragic, pic misses the mark, and there’s no stand-out perf (like Katharina Schuttler’s in Hofmann’s previous “Sophiiie!”) to gloss over the flaws. Pic was, nonetheless, the surprise winner of the Rotterdam audience award, signaling chances for moderate Euro arthouse life.

Humorous opening shows promise as bright, succulent shots of produce lead to images of heavy-set chef Gregor (Josef Ostendorf), attacking his ingredients with gluttonous gusto and reveling in his girth. A master of “cucina erotica,” Gregor owns an exclusive restaurant with only three tables, where his inventiveness in the kitchen is a cause for unending accolades.

At a cafe nearby he strikes up a conversation with Eden (Charlotte Roche), a waitress with a daughter with Down syndrome, Leonie (Leonie Stepp), and a monotonous marriage to senior citizen dance instructor Xaver (Devid Striesow). As a hesitant gesture of friendship, Gregor makes a chocolate cake for Leonie’s birthday; one taste and Eden sees heaven.

In the subsequent weeks, Eden makes evening trips to Gregor’s home, where he plies her with such delicacies as bulls’ testicles and she discovers a new meaning to life. Visibly uplifted, Eden’s sex life at home is reinvigorated. But hubby Xaver is suspicious of the fat chef, and when she tells him she’s pregnant, he thinks the worst.

Although Hofmann presents the burgeoning warmth between Eden and Gregor as an unlikely but life-changing platonic partnership, it’s remarkably one-sided. She’s so wrapped up in herself that she never notices Gregor’s growing feelings, and, when she does notice, she treats his suppressed ardor with an offhand casualness.

More of Gregor’s inner life would help explain how and why Eden becomes his culinary muse. Pic’s ending is especially odd, as Hofmann tries to inject absurdist humor into the mix, which sits uncomfortably with the increasing seriousness of the story.

Surely the most important elements of the food-in-film genre are luscious lensing and attractive people treating each mouthful as if their loins were on fire. But here, apart from the opening sequence, visuals are dull and lifeless. Perhaps it was the transfer from HD, but pic is far too dark, with muddied tonalities that do nothing for Gregor’s famous chocolate cola sauce.

Eden

Germany-Switzerland

Production

A Gambit Film und Fernsehproduktion (Germany)/C-Films (Switzerland)/Cine+ (Germany) production, in association with SF DRS, Teleclub Swiss, SWR, BR. (International sales: Gambit, Ludwigsburg, Germany.) Produced by Michael Jungfleisch. Executive producer, Robert Geisler. Co-producers, Andi Huber, Peter Reichenbach, Lilian Raber, Ulrich Herrmann, Claudia Simionescu, Frank Evers, Christian Colmorgen. Directed, written by Michael Hofmann.

Crew

Camera (color, B&W, HD-to-35mm), Jutta Pohlmann; editors, Bernhard Wiessner, Martina Matuschewski; music, Christoph Kaiser, Julian Maas; production designer, Jorg Prinz; costume designer, Carol Luchetta; sound (Dolby Digital), Ansgar Frerich, Florian Beck, Rudi Guyer; casting, Sigrid Emmerich. Reviewed at Rotterdam Film Festival (Sturm & Drang), Feb. 2, 2006. (Also in Berlin Film Festival -- German Cinema.) Running time: 93 MIN.

With

Josef Ostendorf, Charlotte Roche, Devid Striesow, Max Ruedlinger, Leonie Stepp.

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