Taste (2021)

Visually engaging, narratively sparse and occasionally surreal, this unique portrait of the lonely and the poor through the nearly silent interactions between a Nigerian man and four Vietnamese women ultimately peters out.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Review #2,296

Dir. Le Bao
2021 | Vietnam/Singapore | Drama | 97 mins | 2.39:1 | Vietnamese & Yoruba
R21 (passed clean) for nudity and sexual scenes

Cast: Olegunleko Ezekiel Gbenga, Khuong Thi Minh Nga, Le Thi Dung, Nguyen Thi Cam Xuan, Vu Thi Tham Thin
Plot: In this meditative immersion into the slums of Ho Chi Minh City, a newly unemployed Nigerian footballer searches for his place in society. He befriends and moves in with four middle-aged women and they create an intimate utopia for themselves.
Awards: Won Encounters Award – Special Jury Prize (Berlinale)
International Sales: Wild Bunch

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Alienation, Human Connection, Solitude
Narrative Style: Elliptical/Sparse
Pace: Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse

Viewed: Oldham Theatre
Spoilers: No

There has been quite the buzz surrounding this film since its Berlinale world premiere, where it won the Special Jury Prize in the Encounters section. 

Yet the positive buzz has recently been overshadowed by its home country, Vietnam, banning the film due to excessive nudity.  There is, in fact, a lot of nudity in this one, though there are barely more than a few scenes that are sexual in nature. 

The nakedness of bodies in Taste is an artistic intent, its prolonged nature giving it a unique, occasionally surreal experience.  With bodies stripped bare, they become one with the space they are in, also stripped bare in its minimalism, as these characters—a Nigerian man and four Vietnamese women—co-exist by preparing food, eating, bathing and sleeping together. 

“I’ve a son in Nigeria. It’s because of him that I work. That is what brought me to Saigon.”

An expansion of a short that director Le Bao made in 2016, Taste is a unique portrait of the lonely and the poor.  These people barely speak, yet their nearly silent interactions communicate solace in despair. 

Made in the slow cinema mode, Taste is visually engaging, almost entirely framed in static shots.  Some of its most vitalising moments are that of the quintet cooking and eating together—one could almost smell and taste the scenes. 

The film, however, ultimately peters out; being narratively sparse, it is difficult to see where it might be going, though one might argue that a film like this does not need to go anywhere but inward.  Still, Taste hardly feels resonating to me, though there is much to appreciate in how assured and self-contained the picture is stylistically. 

Grade: B-


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