Posted in: Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on March 30th, 2016
“It was as if all the pieces of the puzzle were falling into place since what was being discussed here was a matter of creating something unique: a cuisine based exclusively on raw Nordic ingredients.”
That pull quote, which appears at the start of Noma: My Perfect Storm, accidentally serves as a microcosm for the film as a whole. The excitement that builds at the prospect of witnessing something special quickly gives way to a chilly, undercooked experience.
Noma is the name of the award-winning Copenhagen restaurant operated by Chef Rene Redzepi. The film dips into Redzepi’s origin story — he’s the son of a Danish mother and a Macedonian father whose Muslim background resulted in some racist taunts; both parents appear in the film — but doesn’t delve very deeply into his psychological makeup or how it affected or informed his food.
The food rightly takes center stage as Redzepi and others discuss the game-changing concept of creating a menu using ingredients from the Nordic region, which is comprised of Greenland, Icland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark, where Noma is located. In fact, Redzepi is credited with inventing Nordic cuisine. That acclaim leads to Noma earning the title of Best Restaurant in the World for three straight years between 2010 and 2012.
One of the problems with My Perfect Storm is that there’s not much drama or intrigue for what is ostensibly a narrative feature. (This film often seems like it would be more at home as an episode of some glossy Cooking Channel program.) The big calamity that occurs in the film — besides the norovirus bug that resulted in 63 people mysteriously getting sick at Noma — is that the restaurant loses its Best Restaurant in the World title in 2013, tumbling all the way down to…second place.
That setback and Redzepi’s quest to gain an elusive third Michelin star for his restaurant are unironically treated with the same gravity as having dozens of people get sick in their restaurant. Don’t believe me? The film’s climax take place at the 2014 Best Restaurant in the World ceremony as cameras offer a first-person perspective of what it was like sitting with Redzepi’s entourage as they waited to see if Noma reclaimed the top spot.
It’s one of several filmmaking tricks director Pierre Deschamps pulls off. On top of getting the extravagant close-ups of Noma’s offerings — I personally find them much prettier to look at than appetizing — the director employs a fly-on-the wall style that lets us attend restaurant meetings and testing sessions with Redzepi. The problem is Redzepi — the film’s central figure — is kind of a wet noodle.
The man whose genius is casually compared to Mozart’s is repeatedly seen throwing profane, half-hearted hissy fits in the restaurant. (For better and worse, Redzepi is no Gordon Ramsay-style showman.) It culminates with a sequence that proves Redzepi is arguably even more obnoxious in victory. The scene largely wipes away any connection with or sympathy toward Redzepi we may have felt when he was presented as a vulnerable and insecure artist. (There’s an interesting sequence where Redzepi lists all the reasons why the Best Restaurant in the World title doesn’t matter and is an arbitrary award…but then he admits he wants it very badly anyway.)
Unfortunately, some of the more intriguing parts of this documentary — Noma’s philosophy that food has a time and place that tells a story about where in the world you are and what time of year it is — are overshadowed by posturing and whining. We also don’t really see what inspires many of Noma’s meals. It’s a detached, clinical approach that illustrates the joylessness of cooking.
Noma: My Perfect Storm is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average of 19 mbps. You won’t be surprised to find the highlights here involve the close-ups of Noma’s culinary offerings. Even so, the detail is not quite razor sharp since director Pierre Deschamps — who also served as the film’s cinematographer — favors a lovingly gauzy presentation that results in a(n intentionally) softer image. The Nordic palette is appropriately chilly and a bit desaturated, although greens (in Noma’s dishes and in the fields where the restaurant’s ingredients come from) are particularly rich here. Overall, this is a clean, naturalistic presentation.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track offers a hefty boost for Frans Bak and Keld Haaning Ibsen’s grandiose score. The music tends to dominate the entire surround sound field, even when the action takes us outdoors to collect ingredients. Dialogue is clear (and often subtitled) throughout in this solid, well-balanced track.
All of the bonus material is presented in HD.
Deleted Scenes: (10:44) Like the documentary itself, the three scenes here pretty to look at, but meander too much to coalesce into a satisfying meal. The first offers a first-person look at Redzepi arriving at Noma and walking around the restaurant. We also get a closer look at the process of making “virgin” butter and how Noma’s eggs are delivered.
Testing the Menu: (20:15) For this featurette, the most useful one on this disc, we’re literally looking over Redzeipi’s shoulder as he presents several dishes to his staff — including flat bread with grilled roses, and fermented gooseberries — and the group briefly discusses and debates their merits. (Naturally, Redzepi’s voice carries the most weight.)
Noma Cuisine Gallery: (2:42) This is essentially a slideshow presentation of Noma’s menu, including pickled summer squash, apple on ice with sloe berry juice, and smoked quail eggs.
I can appreciate that Noma’s dishes are works of art, but — at the risk of sounding like a plebe — none of them look like they’d make a dent in my usual food cravings. (Of course, the closest I’ve come to Nordic cuisine is eating at IKEA’s cafeteria, so what do I know?)
Well, I do know that Redzepi doesn’t make for a very magnetic personality to build a film around, especially when we don’t really gain insight into what makes him and his food great. For those reasons, I’d only recommend Noma: My Perfect Storm to the most hardcore of foodies.