Going to the movies offers the opportunity to understand better our contemporaries and their way of life. A dive into a new world. A sort of ethnographic study for the price of a ticket. Take the movie Non-Fiction by Olivier Assayas, currently in movie theaters. It takes place in the Parisian literary scene. Understand, artistic and “Upper”. In the movie, we learn as much about this milieu’s relation to modernity (will the e-book win over real books?) as about its eating habits.
From the first scenes on, we understand the table’s symbolic power. A publisher invites one of his writers to lunch to tell him he won’t publish his manuscript. Awkward. The publisher orders steak & salad and bottled water, while the writer will have starter, main course and wine. Two worlds clashing. What the publisher sees as a professional meeting (still) belongs to the artist’s field of indulgence and friendliness.
Meals are being reinvented. Especially among the gentry, who’s willingly in touch, and sees social gatherings as ways to evaluate and maintain one’s social status. What are we discovering? That no one sits at the table anymore. Having dinner now means sitting by the fire and nibbling little things purchased from a prestigious caterer, while their branded boxes sit on what was called “a dining table” in the last century. We now drink wine from very large glasses, just like in American TV shows. In one of the last scenes of the movie (at the Majorcan publisher’s house, with direct access to the beach), one of the guests asks with a knowing look: “Shall we have the cakes with coffee?” Because of course, these people don’t eat dessert (too risky, too bourgeois) but enjoy coffee with cakes. Slight difference.
Fifteen years ago, Thierry Ardisson hosted high-society dinner parties on TV by receiving people of all kinds. Each guest had their indicated seat, candlesticks on the table were creating the atmosphere and lackeys waited to be called upon to serve. Saying that times have changed is an euphemism…