British director Peter Strickland evokes his chamber sonic horror Berberian Sound Studio in his latest work. Flux Gourmet pushes the envelope further into an absurdist direction, marking his most hilarious venture so far.
After his Giallo homage in Berberian Sound Studio, Strickland cemented his savvy for expanding genre filmmaking further into the arthouse dimension with follow-up projects The Duke of Burgundy and In Fabric. Strickland’s latest work makes the marriage of meta-horror, oddball comedy, and performance and conceptual art more seamless and spectacular.
A leading trio of avant-garde auditory performance artists lands a coveted residency at the Sonic Catering Institute. The domineering Elle di Elle (Strickland regular Fatma Mohamed) leads the experimental gang of two technicians, Lamina Propria (Ariane Labed) and innocent-looking Billy Rubin (Asa Butterfield).
Their regime at the residency, try-out sessions and orgies included, is closely scrutinized and documented by the Institute’s in-house reporter and archivist Stones (Makis Papadimitriou, of Greek absurd drama Pity). By virtue of his role, Stones becomes the film’s narrator, trailing the art group, their shenanigans and power struggles behind the scenes, while Strickland designates him a separate plotline revolving around the distressing flatulence he is suffering.
The three artists prepare new culinary sonic happenings under the auspices of the Institute’s director, Jan Stevens (Gwendoline Christie), who rotates eccentric attires with iron-clad regularity. Among many other things, Flux Gourmet satirizes and thematizes relations between institutions and artists, the artist’s ego, and the position of art itself. Stevens nurtures the conceptual performances yet cannot help interfering with the artists’ visions. Her meddling escalates the tension and originates the film’s running gag about an audio effect flanger.
The pressure crescendos between the Institute director and Elle di Elle, as Jan Stevens is facing acts of harassment from the rival artistic group Mangrove Snacks, which she did not pick for the residency. Stevens even resorts to political games, attempting to pull strings with a strange occurrence of an Oedipal complex on the youngest member trio in residency.
Flux Gourmet is Strickland’s contribution to pandemic cinema, as the film is fully encapsulated within the walls of the Institute. The limitations of shooting during the COVID-19 era, however, proved fruitful for the film, which makes good use of the chamber set-up and its symmetrical compositions. Flux Gourmet is a playful oddity, fluid in terms of the genre yet precise in attentively calibrated formalism, despite the general, rather austere, albeit colorful minimalism.
Peter Strickland’s latest work resists clear-cut labels and pigeonholing. As a satire of the arts world, Flux Gourmet is This is Spinal Tap inspired by the Fluxus movement and Viennese Actionism. The director does not espouse a mockumentary style; instead, this is a drama with precisely composed and staged scenes, eventually achieving something that resembles a Peter Greenaway influence filtered through the Greek New Wave.
Strickland breaks through barriers, seamlessly integrating high with low brow, conceptual art with gastrointestinal disorders, giallo with the politics of institutionalized art, absurd and deadpan humor with a fetishist gaze in a pioneering thrust beyond the familiar and established coordinates of arthouse genre cinema.
Visually seducing, subversively weird, sonically disturbing, and absurdly comic, Flux Gourmet is en route to cult status.
Review originally published in connection with the Berlinale in February 2022. IFC Midnight will release the film on Friday, June 24. Visit the official site for more information.