Eden

charlotte-rocheToying with ideas of prejudice, loneliness and redemption, Eden tells the story of a reclusive chef whose greatest pleasure is creating dishes that arouse people to dizzying heights of pleasure.

Eden opens with a grotesque scene of a fat chef, Gregor (Josef Ostendorf), skinning a furry animal with sensual relish before chucking large chunks of meat into a pan. We next meet him in a local café, engaged in the second of his two hobbies: ogling the local waitresses. Strolling in the park after his habitual espresso, our friend rescues a disabled girl from drowning in the fountain and returns her to her mother, Eden (Charlotte Roche), who is none other than the waitress who served him. On discovering that tomorrow will be the birthday of the girl, Leonie (Leonie Stepp), Gregor returns to the café the following day armed with a cake he has baked for her; a chocolate cake of such deliciousness that it will form a turning point for all the characters in the film. Although Leonie doesn’t like chocolate, she can’t stop eating the truffles on top, and throws a fit when they are taken from her. Eden also tries a truffle. It tastes so good, she gets up in the middle of the night and walks to the chef’s house, in the hope of finding some more. Gregor cooks her a different dish, and the two form an unlikely friendship, agreeing to meet each week for supper and giving Eden some much needed respite from her brutish husband, Xaver (Devid Striesow).

Since eating Gregor’s food, Eden’s life takes a dramatic turn for the better, at least at first. Her husband starts to take an interest in her again, her sex life improves, and she gets pregnant after years of trying. But when Xaver finds out about Eden’s friendship with the chef, his jealousy is awakened, and Eden’s dreams of a happy marriage are shattered.

It’s no accident that this film is called. Gregor has already made a name for himself in “culinary eroticism” – food that produces an almost ecstatic pleasure in the eater, and leaves them begging for more. When Leonie tries the truffles, she has a fit; her mother becomes addicted. In a bizarre scene at Gregor’s €300-a-meal restaurant, the faces of his customers contort in delight at the platters set before them; like dogs, they lap up every last morsel with their tongues. Yet like Eve’s apple, when people try Gregor’s ‘forbidden fruit’ their eyes are opened to new possibilities. Moreover, the fruit is an agent of transformation. Eden’s sniffy waitress blossoms as she experiences pleasure and real friendship; meanwhile her apparently affable husband turns out to be a thug and a bully, driven insane with envy.

The expository nature of gastronomic pleasure serves to highlight the loneliness that pervades the whole film. Though the characters live in the community of an ordinary German town, all of them are isolated in some way. Eden appears to be Gregor’s only friend. Pushing sixty, he has never enjoyed a sexual relationship but has an odd, oedipal connection to his late mother – he loved her pregnant belly, and once served his step-father’s dog for Sunday lunch. Eden is also lonely, trapped in an unloving marriage with a husband who spends his free evenings at strip clubs and sees the couple’s disabled daughter as a mere inconvenience. Disjointed shots of old people on holiday reveals a bogus community that swims and dances together, but lacks warmth and doesn’t communicate.

Again, it’s around food that real love begins to blossom between Eden and Gregor. We observe him through the eyes of Eden, who sees only good in Gregor while we remain mistrustful. Indeed, the film plays with our prejudices. How can a fat, ugly, sexually deprived man inspire such joy in people, we ask. How can his food so entice people? Is it some form is witchcraft? Does he represent the devil, ensnaring his victims with forbidden fruit, only to ruin their happiness? Yet as we learn more about his nature we warm to him, while Eden’s husband is revealed in his true colours. Xaver, rather than Gregor, is the real monster of the film.

Eden is surrealist in its approach, though its plot is linear and its camerawork unadventurous. The characters display seemingly prophetic powers, and every new plot twist carries a sense of destiny. Eden, for example, finds her way to the chef’s house without knowing its location; Gregor predicts that some of Eden’s customers will run off without paying, and they do; and fate works powerfully during the final showdown.

Like one of Gregor’s truffles, Eden is a daring film that doesn’t stick to the recipe. A bittersweet celebration of life, it will leave you hungry for more.

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