SIFF Double Feature – Le Chocolat de H and The Woman Who Loves Giraffes
Le Chocolat de H: Takashi Watanabe’s first documentary feature is about Japanese chocolatier Hironobu Tsujiguchi. Tsujiguchi grew up over a confectionary shop, later opened a world-class patisserie, and then turned his sights to the world of chocolate. Winning 5 gold medals at the Salon du Chocolat in Paris, we follow his process to develop 4 new chocolate bonbons in the quest for a 6th award. Tsujiguchi is not just looking for intriguing flavor combinations; he is trying to tell a story with the food he creates. His success stems not only from his ability to craft exquisite sweets, but his passion as an artist to create something more than just a transitory eating experience. (And he seems to be a hell of a businessman.) He is particularly keen to highlight traditional Japanese ingredients and searches far and wide for just the exact artisanal flavors to incorporate in his chocolates. The viewers travel with him to meet the people who make the salt, miso, mirin, rice flour, tea-plant stems, and chocolate that he uses to create this year’s entries into the salon.
THIS FILM IS DELIGHTFUL. I just kind of picked it a random to review because I thought it would be fun to sit and look at chocolate for 90 minutes, I had no idea what a lovely surprise it was going to be. (I would be shocked if this isn’t my most enjoyable SIFF experience this year.) Tsujiguchi is a charmer, and his passion is infectious. I am a printmaker and love seeing other artists at work. (This is not the kind of dull art film that hypes male genius no matter how annoying the artist is. Tsujiguchi seems to be a really nice guy who doesn’t mind sharing the spotlight with the people who make his work possible.) And the film itself is lovely and has all the beautiful shots of pasty and bonbons you could ever hope for. Tsujiguchi opens himself up to the camera, sharing both his high and low points and how his history influences his creations. If you like food documentaries, artist profiles, or simply just a good movie about a talented nice guy, you are going to find a lot to like here.
Le Chocolat de H is playing at the Seattle International Film Festival on May 17th at AMC Pacific Place, May 18th at SIFF Cinema Uptown, and June 1st at the Kirkland Performance Center.
Final Grade: A-
The Woman Who Loves Giraffes: Directed by first-time documentarian Alison Reid, The Woman Who Loves Giraffes tells the story of Anne Innis Dagg. At the age of 23, she traveled to South Africa to study Giraffes in their natural habitat. That might not seem like such a big deal, but it was 1956, and other than a survey of red-tailed deer, no one had ever studied animals in the wild before. (Not to mention the fact she was a woman.) She’d fallen in love with giraffes as a child, but when she studied biology at university, there was no information about them. So she decided to go get some. On her return home, she wrote several papers and the definitive book on the animal (with J. Bristol Foster) and then began her journey to become a university professor. Denied tenure in 1972 by the University of Guelph, she attempted to get other faculty jobs, but to no avail. Conservative university science departments had no interest in giving tenure to a woman, and so she was left out in the cold, even with the groundbreaking nature of her work. (It probably also did not help that she was not an acquiescent people-pleaser.) She spent the next 30 years working on feminist research and activism trying to correct the situation that had so damaged her career. Eventually a new generation of giraffe researchers – raised on her text – welcome her back into the fold, and she was able to update “The Giraffe: Its Biology, Behavior and Ecology” with new information.
This is a good but frustrating movie – through no fault of the director. Dagg’s career troubles are heartbreaking to watch, especially if you feel you have been denied opportunities based on something out of your control. And the information that Giraffes are endangered and will probably disappear without human intervention is a bummer. But, this is a story about persistence and successful human involvement of a sort. Without biologists hunting Dagg down to recognize her work, she might never have had the opportunity to study giraffes again. So maybe we can be inspired by her story to do something to prevent the giraffe from becoming extinct through human interference. I do wish the film had presented more scientific information about giraffes. (It’s two main purposes are to present Dagg’s story and motivate the audience to action.) It does a good job of explaining that people love them, but does not do so well at letting the audience know why. But it’s a story worth hearing, and Reid does a pretty good job of telling it.
The Woman Who Loves Giraffes plays on May 17th and 20th at the SIFF Cinema Uptown and May 18th at Ark Lodge Cinemas.
Final Grade: B+