In some ways, Flux Gourmet is filmmaker Peter Strickland’s most accessible work yet: less terrifyingly reality-bending than Berberian Sound Studio, less non-narratively weird than The Duke Of Burgundy. But it is still defiantly, divinely Stricklandian. It tells the strange tale of a “Sonic Catering Institute”, a quasi-1970s performance art collective dealing primarily in food, sound, and sex, documented by a journalist with some unpredictable bowels.
It’s an undeniably surreal trip, with abstract cutaways of bubbling nondescript food, outlandish performances (there is a bizarre, mimed recreation of a trip to the supermarket — Brian from Spaced would be proud) and a reality that isn’t so much heightened as obliterated. But Strickland’s script is less formalistically daring than previous efforts: where he upended his narrative in Berberian, switched narrative perspectives in In Fabric, and dispensed with logic entirely in The Duke Of Burgundy, this is a relatively straightforward, three-act, singular story.
It's a piece of art about the creation of art, both subverting and embracing the form.
Stylistic flourishes certainly doff a blood-soaked cap to the horror masters — Strickland still employs the red-rich colour palette of his beloved Italian giallo heroes — but he seems to have moved past horror into something more leftfield. It’s a piece of art about the creation of art, both subverting and embracing the form while exploring the clash of egos and infighting that can come in a creative process.
Primarily, that clash is between the domineering but brilliant performance artist veteran Elle de Elle, played by Strickland regular Fatma Mohamed, and her mansion-owning benefactor, Jan Stevens, given baroque severity by Gwendoline Christie. Jan is gifted some of the more patently absurd lines of dialogue — “I do wonder sometimes if you’re perpetuating an archetype of Epicurean toxicity with all this culinary hysteria,” she ponders in one scene — and you sense Strickland is delighting in skewering artistic pseudo-intellectualism.
But for all the tempering of earlier excesses, Flux Gourmet remains categorically, brilliantly Not For All Tastes. Its curious delights include monologues about worrying farts, chauvinist doctors delivering diagnoses while glugging white wine, pillow talk about flangers, and the most grotesque colonoscopy ever filmed.