I’m so thrilled that one of my favorite documentaries is being released in the weeks before Thanksgiving. Not as you might assume, because I’m thankful for this delightful portrait of Julia Child. I am. Instead, I think it’s great timing because this is a time of the year when people in the U.S. are thinking about food preparation for Thanksgiving. We can all be grateful for Julia Child! She became famous during a time where housewives were preparing meals using Cambell’s Soup and many families were enjoying jello salads. I remember lime jello and fruit cocktail from a can. Julia Child elevated food preparation, demystifying French cooking but also making fine cuisine accessible to anyone who owned a television.
“Julia”, directed by Julie Cohen; Betsy West (“RBG”, 2018) celebrates the warmth and passion of the celebrated chef and cookbook author Julia Child. It’s a bold film that lets the images speak as much as the celebratory chefs interviewed on camera. Cohen and West create le mélange of archival footage and photos with sensuous close-ups of simmering bœuf bourguignon. There’s a wonderful contrast of the footage of Julia Child creating dishes for the public television show and the sexy food photography crafted by Claudia Raschke.
For the low-budget television show, we get to glimpse the behind-the-scenes crew crouched below the kitchen counter to hand up ingredients or the premade finished item. There are huge hulking cameras and bright set lights flanking the set. The focus is on Julia Child’s personality and her chatty teaching style. In contrast, interspersed contemporary footage highlights the beauty, texture, and sumptuousness of the food. The camera moves with ease–floating around to bring the audience in close. You can almost smell the food. The filmmakers invite us in to share Child’s passion; the sensual nature of cooking and eating.
The film is a love letter to a trailblazer who rejected her comfortable upper-middleclass position and sought adventure and fulfillment. Child could’ve followed the path she was groomed for in her parochial upbringing. Instead, she became a ground-breaking television celebrity. “Julia” is as much about her marriage as it is about her cookbooks. She may not have labeled herself a feminist but the loving support of her husband Paul, in an era where a woman’s place was still very much defined by husband’s career, is remarkable. Julia discovered joy and passion in France and she fulfilled her desire to share that with the world. An exceptional woman and an exceptional documentary.
I was fortunate to see this film at the Telluride Film Festival. There was a nice conversation in the Park with Davia Nelson of The Kitchen Sisters and Alice Waters (Chez Panisse and Edible Schoolroom) in discussion with co-directors Betsy West and Julia Cohen. Waters is a long-time supporter of the festival and good friend of the founder, Tom Luddy. Having reviewed “Julia” for the local paper, The Daily Planet, I was able to present them with copies of that front page article and snap a photo of these powerhouse women holding organic local peaches. We’re Twitter friends already as I’m a big fan of “RBG”. It was a wonderful moment of being in the right place at the right time to capture a joyous moment.
Drinks with Films rating: 4 glasses of French wine, consumed over a leisurely lunch and possibly, if you’re as lucky in love as Julia Child…followed by a romp in bed (out of 5)