‘Flux Gourmet’ Gives Food and Fringe Film Aficionados Something to Chew On

On any standard table, “Flux Gourmet” would be labeled an acquired taste, but this would be a misnomer. David Cronenberg’s recent “Crimes of the Future” presented major surgery as a public spectacle, “Flux Gourmet” turns a colonoscopy into “Midsommar” madness, a cult initiation of gastric inflation. Hungary-based English filmmaker Peter Strickland’s culinary cinema offering aims to be “Saló” (“120 Days of Sodom”) for the reflux crowd. 

Body horrors come in all forms, but impending diagnoses are the gateway to premonitory nightmares which the film uses as an allegory for the impending doom. The film is seen through the eyes of its narrator, Stones (Makis Papadimitriou), the institute’s in-house documentarian and self-proclaimed hack who is putting together the performance-within-the-film narrative. Gastroenterologist Dr Glock (Richard Bremmer) is a marvel at pregnant pauses, snide asides, and exploring backsides. “The wise man breaks wind and is gone,” Ian Anderson advised in his epic prog masterpiece “Thick as a Brick,” but Stones lingers, becoming part of the art, giving his insides for it.

There is only one audible fart in “Flux Gourmet,” but it is not a one-fart-joke movie. Subtle, repressed, yet liberating, it is apparently the fart heard round the world, or at least at the Sonic Catering Institute, behind whose bushes it expels. It may not even have been audible to the only person in proximity, Lamina Propria (Ariane Labed), one of the artistic trio in a three-week residency at the prestigious fortress of higher learning for the Food Music crowd. The institute’s director, Jan Stevens (Gwendoline Christie), isn’t only in it for the backstage orgies. She is a very serious artistic thought promoter. She is not above brainwashing her sponsored artists, and expects only the most from them. The avant garde ensemble promises to give all they have.

The band is led by the Machiavellian visionary Elle di Elle (Fatma Mohamed), and also backed by the auditory floppy-haired over-flanger Billy Rubin (Asa Butterfield). Elle is taking on the patriarchy, eating pages of vintage cooking manuals which present commandments on how wives should behave in order to make a better meal for their husbands. The dysfunctional dynamic main ingredients – Elle, Lamina, and floppy haired Billy – are stewing in their own power struggles. There is also an outside rivalry. The Snack Mongrels collective were rejected by the institute, and are enacting revenge by way of increasing artistic terrorism. 

Elle’s group are still thinking of a name, the closest we come is Elle and the Gastric Ulcers, although the perfect name just barely escapes her lips before the lips become part of a performance. The fringe artists mic up pots and pans, amplifying, compressing and phase-shifting the sounds of boiling, bubbling, and other epicurean troubling on appliances, tabletops, and cutting boards, to fully capture the micro textures of cooking.

This is a very personal film for Strickland, who made the inventive low-budget thrillers “Berberian Sound Studio” (2012), “In Fabric” (2018), and “The Duke of Burgundy” (2014). He knows the artists of which he directs, he was one. He played with the electronic music ensemble Sonic Catering Band, which provides the soundtrack.

The costume designs, by Saffron Cullane and Emily Newby, are flamboyantly provocative, beautifully designed accessories to absurdist social commentary. The production designer Fletcher Jarvis creates surrealism out of misdirected context. We never leave the mansion grounds, but are never bored. Jarvis can make food look delicious, grotesque, disorienting, or disgusting. The close-ups deconstruct the food, and after one particularly jarring sequence, you will never trust any culinary presentation again offered. 

The film openly satirizes the relationship between artists and the institutes which fund them. It is also an anti-intolerance film, which takes on the waiters who roll their eyes at gluten-free cross-contamination questions. There are no fart jokes in the film, no base humor, and only occasional gross-out horror. The flatulence is not presented in a comedic way, while everything else is openly funny, but absurdly normal. 

The cast commits to the eccentric characters. Mohamed gets funnier the straighter she plays Elle, but is irresistible as she cajoles Stones to join performances in a bid for authenticity. From Billy’s egg lady fantasies to chocolate mousse immersions masquerading as stool-sample body painting, it’s all merely kinky cooking. The film doesn’t push the boundaries of good taste, as much as offer a Pupu Platter sampler. “Flux Gourmet” is a high mark in lowbrow cinema with an eye toward Stanley Kubrick level iconography. Cheap thrills are served with fine cutlery. 

Flux Gourmet” releases June 24 on VOD and in select theaters