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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Thursday, July 09, 2020

entry arrow10:00 AM | The Film Meme No. 75

[75th of 100]. There is so much to like in Pixar's splendid catalogue of animated films, which may be because of their sworn fidelity to the primacy of "story" over any other considerations. It has not been an entirely flawless output -- [insert your Pixar disappointment here] -- but the fantastic of the heap overwhelms the also-rans, and for me, the best of them all has got to be this unlikely 2007 tale of a rat that becomes Paris' best chef. First there is the sheer audaciousness of the conception. Think about the pitch that was somehow given the green light by Pixar executives: "We're doing a story about a rat surrounded by a family of garbage-dwelling rodents, whose marked difference is his uncanny sense of smell and taste, which become the foundation by which he envisions himself a chef. But he's still a rat right through the end." A rat. That disease-carrying denizen of sewers, whose very presence is indicative of waste and dirtiness. A rat. A rat in the kitchen, making food. Pitch approved! The very idea is ludicrous, no? Which may be why the artists behind the film, in coming up with the finished and acceptable concept art of Remy, our unlikely gastronomic hero, [1] have rendered his fur in a cute, unthreatening shade of purplish blue, [2] have made him a biped [ostensibly to keep his front paws clean enough to handle ingredients], and [3] have made his eyes big enough to trick us into "baby-facing" him, ensuring our perception of cuteness. But everything works, and the film -- having made us identify with a cute rodent with big dreams and singular talents -- takes us into a roller-coaster ride from the countrysides of France into the heart of Paris. In the fine dining capital of the world, we start charting Remy's climb into gastronomic heights with the help of a buffoonish young man named Alfredo Linguini, and with some challenges thrown their way by the jealous and suspicious head chef Skinner. The pratfalls of the story aside, the film enchants us with its showcase of culinary feasts -- this is one of the best food films there is -- and finally with its degustation of the artistic theme: anyone can cook, the film proclaims, but only the fearless can be great. The film very much defines for me the search by an artist of his artistry, an often fraught journey that is riddled with gauntlets, misgivings, and the uncharitability of those who proclaim themselves gatekeepers. But given that, it also ends with a prescription for criticism, voiced by Anton Ego, the fearsome food critic turned unlikely champion: "In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the 'new.' The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends. Last night, I experienced something new: an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions about fine cooking is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau's famous motto, 'Anyone can cook.' But I realize, only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist; but a great artist can come from anywhere." That has always guided me in the pursuit of my art, as well as my criticism. Which is why, if you don't find me writing in my column about a concert, or a play, or an exhibit, or a restaurant, or a film in Dumaguete, only three things are possibilities: [1] I wasn't there, and didn't see it; [2] I was involved, which forfeits the writing of a critique, but not a press release [of course!]; or [3] I didn't like it. But to champion the groundbreaking and the marvelous when it comes? I'll be there. What's the film?

For the introduction to this meme, read here.

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