Right now, I’m writing my text for the Food in Film Blogathon AND eating a sandwich at the same time. SO CONCEPT. I have to admit, I’m a pretty greedy person. Things I can’t resist? Ice cream, french fries, Champagne, and mojito (among other things). When I saw the announcement for Kristina and Ruth’s blogathon, the first film that immediately pop-uped in my mind was L’aile ou la cuisse (The Wing or the Thigh), a 1976’s French film directed by Claude Zidi and starring the crazy Louis de Funès, Coluche, Ann Zacharias, and Julien Guiomar. France has always had a reputation for its gastronomy. No wonder why they also make films where food is at the center of attention. I was happy to dive into that film again since I had only seen it once before and that was many years ago (I wasn’t even really watching classics at the time). I even remember watching it with my sister. Anyway, I don’t regret my choice as it is pretty perfect for this blogathon!
The central character of L’aile ou la cuisse is Charles Duchemin (Louis de Funès), the editor of an internationally reputed restaurant guide. He has just been elected at the French Academy and is about to retire after the publishing of the Duchemin Guide’s last edition. He hopes to transmit his knowledge of the French food to his son Gérard (Coluche), hoping he’ll eventually follow his vocation. However, Gérard is barely interested in a career in this field and prefers his life as a clown in a circus (something his father isn’t aware of). However, Charles has to face a more serious problem: Jacques Tricatel (Julien Guiomar), the owner of a mass-produced food company is about to buy some restaurants that were supposed to be awarded by the Duchemin Guide. If these restaurants are bought by a company producing cheap food, the future of high gastronomy might be at stake. Tricatel is also quite decided to tarnish Charles’ reputation. So, this one has to stop Tricatel and make people realize what kind of horrid food his company produces. So, with the help of Gérard (despite himself) and his new secretary, Marguerite nº2 (Ann Zacharias), he’ll tempt to stop Tricatel’s shenanigans, and this leads us to an unforgettable climax.
L’aile ou la cuisse doesn’t lose time to introduce food in the story. The opening titles present us a most entertaining animation made with kitchen tools, plates, and pans. It’s accompanied by Vladimir Cosma’s dynamic scores. These opening titles give the spectator two clues: that this will certainly be a film about food and that it will be a lively one.
Watch this. The “song” will probably be stuck in your head for a while, but, believe me, it’s worthy.
Seriously, I love that music! Somehow, I can imagine majorettes dancing on that with giant kitchen tools instead of batons.
After these credits, we move to the introductory scene, the one presenting us the Duchemin Guide. I believe it’s a perfect way to begin the movie as it gives you a good idea of what the Duchemin guide is about and the importance it has. The reputation of French cuisine very much depends on this guide, so the great restaurants have to give their best to keep their good status.
Charles Duchemin is known to be someone quite “mysterious”. Us, spectators, know who he is since we witness his everyday life, but, when he visits a restaurant to rate it, he always disguises himself not to be recognized. This creates some pretty hilarious scenes. Thus, Louis de Funès is not introduced to us as the veritable Duchemin but as a fancy old lady. One of his employees has been appointed to rate a restaurant but Duchemin prefers to assist as a second judge. The restaurant staff has obviously recognized the “assistant” and treats him like a king. They serve him the best food they have and multiple plates. Meanwhile, Duchemin (as an old lady) is neglected by the waiters, which indicates that, even if they serve good food, their customer service isn’t the best.
Duchemin will also visit restaurants as a cowboy, a bride’s father, and a cab driver.
Claude Ziddi’s film is an interesting one as it shows us different facets of the “food world”. Indeed, we and Duchemin’s crew encounter the best and the worst of French cuisine. At some point, some meals are real masterpieces, but some other are made by cooks who doesn’t really seem to give a damn about what they are serving to their customers.
In this Japanese restaurant, cooking becomes a real performance.
This wine has a similar colour to the one Mr. Alexander serves to Alex DeLarge in A Clockwork Orange…
Tricatel “food” (if we can call it food) is the perfect example of anti-French gastronomy. Indeed, when Charles and Gérard manage to enter in the factory, they discover how their food is made, which is a process that has to be denounced. Sadly, even if L’aile ou la cuisse is “just a film” it certainly reflects a certain reality.
At one point in the film, Duchemin faces a pretty challenging problem: to Tricatel greatest amusement, he has lost his sense of taste! However, the renowned editor hasn’t finished to impress us. Indeed, in a scene, he manages to guess the name, grape variety, and year of a red wine only by looking at it.
If you haven’t seen L’aile ou la cuisse yet, I highly recommend it. Not only it will make you travel in the world of French cuisine, but you’ll also appreciate it’s humour.
Make sure to satisfy your appetite by reading the other entries!