“Flux Gourmet” is an absurdist adventure in pretentious performance art made of food sounds

British filmmaker Peter Strickland makes distinctive cinema that stimulates the senses – sometimes in unpleasant ways. His arthouse hit, “The Duke of Burgundy,” about lesbian S&M lepidopterists, got a perfume credit. His thriller “In Fabric” featured a killer dress (don’t wash it!) In his recent stop-motion film “GUO4”, two naked guys were fighting in a dressing room that still made viewers feel every punch. These films are a good preparation for Strickland’s latest achievement, “Flux Gourmet” about the residency of a sonic catering collective (yes, it’s a thing), in an elite institution run by Jan Stevens (Gwendoline Christie from “Game of Thrones” ).

The collective consists of Elle (Fatma Mohamed), Billy (Asa Butterfield) and Lamina (Ariane Labed), who create performance art with food sounds. In one piece, Elle is naked and covered in blood, rolling on the floor as cooking sounds are played along with thumping music. A scatalogue features a voiceover about a man who gets aroused by a woman using the toilet, while Elle smears her body with what appears to be feces. (Viewers will likely keep repeating the mantra, “That’s chocolate pudding.”)

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A comic book series features characters comparing the size of their mouths as a form of foreplay.

As part of her residency requirement, Elle is required to deliver an after-dinner speech, and her topic, male domestic oppression, is a diatribe about Epicurean toxicity and culinary hysteria leading to a later discussion of dysfunctional nutritional ideology.

Ariane Labed as Lamina Propria in Peter Strickland’s “Flux Gourmet” (IFC midnight)

The whole endeavor couldn’t be more pretentious. However, Strickland (and his players) all take “Flux Gourmet” incredibly seriously – which is exactly why viewers don’t have to. This movie is very dark, very dry and very funny. It contains absurdist humor that underscores Strickland’s (which he made in all of his films) points about power inequality. A comic book series features characters comparing the size of their mouths as a form of foreplay.

The main drama describes the battle between Jan Stevens — who is always referred to the use of both names in greeting – and Elle. Elle refuses to make a note about using a flanger (an audio device) that her benefactor, Jan Stevens, wants her to call back. But there are also conflicts between Elle and her colleagues, Billy and Lamina. Jan Stevens seduces Billy, who revealed his psychosexual trauma in his after dinner speech. Billy later wonders if Jan Stevens’ attempts to get him to sleep with her were all a ploy to get him to do something about the flanger. Meanwhile, Lamina, tired of being mistreated, begins to rebel against Elle. When Elle accidentally drops a bottle of extra virgin olive oil on a staircase – Strickland lovingly photographs the spill – Lamina and Billy are tasked with cleaning up Elle’s mess, which may be the last straw.

There are other subplots, the most notable of which is a journalist, Stones (Makis Papadimitriou), documenting the residency, with gastrointestinal issues. dr. Glock (Richard Bremmer) subjects Stones to a series of increasingly invasive procedures. One involves his colonoscopy being used as a performance piece. Actually, Stones puts on a performance of his own trying to contain his flatulence – or at least leave the wind discreet and out of earshot of one of these sound specialists. “Flux Gourmet” is so well made, and Papadimitriou such a great actor, that his efforts are palpable.

“Flux Gourmet” isn’t really focused on food porn. The most erotic scene… is where Elle is holding and stroking a power cord.

Strickland is all about creating a tactile environment that makes viewers feel something. During “Flux Gourmet”, the members of the collective take part in pantomime scenes in a supermarket that are hypnotic. Watching Billy and Lamina frustrate Elle by standing in front of her (with only one item) with their half-full shopping cart – only to make Lamina forget to pick up a few items, leaving Elle boiling with rage – is delightful, funny, and really. And while artfully rendered against a white background, the performances convince viewers that they’ve seen the entire episode. That’s the magic of Strickland’s cinema.

Flux GourmetGwendoline Christie as Jan Stevens in Peter Strickland’s “Flux Gourmet” (IFC midnight)

The design details in the film have also been rendered with the utmost care and precision. Especially the costumes of Jan Stevens are fantastic; she dresses in black and white outfits which are quite striking, but she really shines when she wears red. Likewise, the colors in the film, from yolk yellow to stool brown, are incredibly vibrant and luminous. The cinematography, by Tim Sidell, can make an overhead shot of a blender hypnotic, and shots of pasta and bread on a tableau, to use an appropriately pretentious word, fulgurous.

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But “Flux Gourmet” isn’t really focused on food porn. The most erotic scene – more sexual than those excerpts from the post-performance orgies that periodically take place backstage – shows Elle holding and stroking a power cord. This is a movie that is less about sex than about the characters who want comfort and control, or at least a sense of belonging. This is most evident when Jan Stevens admonishes Billy for being more interested in a catalog than their relationship, or during an absolutely hilarious scene where Stones finally shows his patience with Dr. Glock loses.

Strickland maintains an unwavering tone throughout the film, and he is ably aided by his cast, who all recite their lines with deadpan glee. “Flux Gourmet” is certainly an acquired taste, but this unusual film is very satisfying for adventurous moviegoers.

“Flux Gourmet” hits theaters June 24.

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