Sydney Film Festival Review: Foodies (Sweden, 2014)

foodies review

Track the movements of several gastronomy-addicted bloggers while they travel around the world and eat at some of the absolute top restaurants, most guided by the holy foodie grail that is the Michelin Star rating system. It seems like a terrible idea when you think about it – food bloggers are notoriously uninteresting – but the documentary’s three Directors Thomas Jackson, Charlotte Landelius and Henrik Stockare cleverly bring in some gorgeous photography and balance (or rather, imbalance) our time spent with each blogger so we at least get some great material, that unfortunately doesn’t go as in-depth as it should.

Food blogging is still a young cultural phenomena and it’s quite easy to get lost in how overpopulated and idiotic it has all become. The group of jet-setting bloggers that we follow around the world don’t seem to fall into such trappings though, with each likeable if not a tad obnoxious. The creators of this documentary have selected this group – half of whom have some genuinely entertaining personalities, half of whom don’t – and tracked their movements as they let us in on the everyday process of travel-food writing.

There’s the potential here to explore the wider impact of food blogging and how it has changed the way consumers approach restaurants, as well as other topics like the distinction between a food writer and a food critic; but instead the crew narrow in on the grand and expensive. On the one hand, interest is sustained because we get a close look at how some of the most unique and distinguished restaurants in the world operate, as well as spend time with some colourful chefs; on the other hand, we aren’t really getting much of an insight into the more common breed of food blogger, the type who direct traffic at all levels from cheap eats to fine dining.

There’s humour throughout the film only because we are laughing at how ridiculously spoiled and desensitised some of these writers have become. Take Andy Hansen for example; he is the first blogger we spend time with, while he sits alone in an Indian restaurant and whispers to the camera a complaint about how they gave him Moët & Chandon when he was expecting Bollinger. Hansen seems to be the more unappreciative blogger, with an air of self-importance as he explains his personal scoring system which he uses to compare dishes and assign each one a rating out of 20 on his blog.

Far more interesting, and even more obnoxious – though self-aware – is New Yorker Steve Plotnicki whose raspy voice is thrown around whenever he is on screen. He is responsible for the film’s most intriguing scene, where he playfully debates with acclaimed Chef Wylie Dufresne about why he has the right to write something as excessive as “worst dish ever” (not exact quote). It’s easy to misalign food bloggers with professional food critics, and this argument brings up the topics of ethics as we start to explore how an opinion on a blog can have a significant impact for a restaurant. But just as quickly as this topic is brought up, it’s shoved aside so we can watch our other food bloggers eat at interesting places – chewing slowly and nodding a lot.

Cinematography often saves many parts of the film, cutting to some truly magnificent close ups of dishes or wide shots of landscape to make up for waning interest. Often the bloggers themselves aren’t to thank for the most memorable material; that’s left up to the chefs and their creations, in particular one in China who presents soft-spoken rookie blogger Katie Keiko with a dessert dubbed ‘Sex on the Beach’, which uses cookie crumbs and Sichuan peppers as a bed for an edible “used” condom filled with condensed milk. We also learn about apples which sell at $10 each, Tokyo’s top sushi restaurant tucked away in an unassuming car park, and some small mushrooms which apparently come from a beetle’s stomach and are pulled out through their nose. The world isn’t short of interesting culinary experiences, and we at least explore some of those, albeit briefly.

Again, the most interesting and thought-provoking material comes from the inventive Plotnicki who brings up topics of food as art (which it is), and a new scoring system based on the gastronomical experience of each individual writer.

Strangely enough, we don’t really explore the impact of social media at all outside of watching people take pictures with their iPhone.

Despite some compelling and visually stunning footage, Foodies largely fails to sustain some of it’s better ideas. It’ll make you hungry, might make you laugh a bit, and even inspire some post-film debates about the politics of blogging, but it won’t offer much insight into it’s topic beyond letting you know that there are people out there – most well-off financially – who have a hobby that involves eating at good restaurants and letting people know about it.

Review Score: TWO STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Running time: 94 minutes

Foodies screened as part of the Sydney Film Festival. More details can be found HERE