Critics Corner: EL SOMNI (THE DREAM)

el-somni-poster[El Somni (The Dream) will have its San Francisco Premiere on Saturday, October 24 at 7:00pm as part of Food Day / Film Day. Details and tickets at eatdrinkfilmsfest.com. ]

The producers of El Somni (The Dream) described it as

“An opera in a dozen courses and a banquet in a dozen acts —-

An overall multi-disciplinarian, analogue, digital, real, dreamy, cybernetic and culinary work. Opera, electronica, poetry, 3D, performing arts, singing, reflection, painting, films, music and cookery.”

Artists, composers, designers, set designers, inventors, filmmakers, thinkers, scientists, musicians and poets ranged from dancer Maria València to music director Zubin Mehta, contralto Mariona Castelar Garriga to bonsai master Ramon Serafí, sculptors Pere Gifre / Daniel Molina to poet Carles Duarte. Bringing them together with the award-winning restauranteurs Josep, Joan and Jodi Roca was multidisciplinary artist Franc Aleu.

The goal was to create a unique meal that would engage all five senses. The skill, artistry, and imagination of the Roca brothers is undeniable. The food is beautiful and delightfully inventive – a highlight is a plate made out of dough that ‘breathes’ when the food comes into contact with it – and the thought processes behind the development of each course are fascinating to watch.

The guest list for the “el somni” dinner brought together twelve people from very different walks of life, each respected in their own field and who shared one common denominator: the curiosity to experiment, to go beyond the boundaries of the senses.

somni dinnerFerran Adrià, chef and co-owner of El Bulli; Rafael Argullol, novelist, poet and essayist; Miquel Barceló, artist; Joël Candau, an anthropologist specializing in sensory sciences ; Bonaventura Clotet, one of the leading international experts in HIV research; Nandita Das, actress and one of the most renowned directors in Indian cinema; Abderrahmane Kheddar, world-leading expert in the science of touch, virtual reality and humanoid robotics; Ben Lehner, a biologist and researcher and one of the most brilliant scientists in his field, Harold McGee, author specializing in the chemistry, technique and history of food and cooking, Freida Pinto, actress who has starred in films including Slumdog Millionaire; Josep Pons, music director of the Liceu Barcelona Opera House; and Lisa Randall, theoretical physicist and leading expert on cosmology.

Horizontal Rule

Review: El Somni (The Dream)

by Lori Varsames

Let’s face it, when food lovers sit down to enjoy a food-related film, they expect to be seduced. But few imagine the true feast for the senses that is El Somni (The Dream). Director Franc Aleu’s ethereal film documents a highly elite celebratory dinner, where the whole of the participants’ creativity is depicted as greater than the sum of their parts. This multisensory experience mirrors the event itself, but make no mistake, this is no simple food seduction. This is the story of a members-only dinner of the mutual admiration society, and fortunately, the audience gets to watch. Continue reading →

DREAMLIKE STATES OF MIND

by Theresa Patzschke

The three of us left the cinema in three different, almost dreamlike, states of mind, which made it difficult to speak.

El Somni (The Dream), a movie about the Michelin-decorated Roca brothers, captivates and fascinates by showcasing a very special dinner. One that marks a breakthrough in food and art, as it stretches the boundaries of both, and blurs the borders between them.

Continue reading →

We asked wine and food writer Lori Varsames to give us her thoughts.

Review: El Somni (The Dream)

by Lori Varsames

Let’s face it, when food lovers sit down to enjoy a food-related film, they expect to be seduced. But few imagine the true feast for the senses that is El Somni (The Dream). Director Franc Aleu’s ethereal film documents a highly elite celebratory dinner, where the whole of the participants’ creativity is depicted as greater than the sum of their parts. This multisensory experience mirrors the event itself, but make no mistake, this is no simple food seduction. This is the story of a members-only dinner of the mutual admiration society, and fortunately, the audience gets to watch.

Somnidinner greenAleu’s story spotlights the Roca brothers, owners of Spain’s avant-garde El Celler de Can Roca. To celebrate their 2013 win of San Pellegrino and Aqua Panna’s prestigious distinction as “the Best Restaurant in the World,” Executive Chef Joan Roca, Sommelier Josep Roca and Pastry Chef Jordi Roca organized a dinner the likes of which no one has ever experienced. Assembling countless artists—musicians, dancers, singers, poets, composers and visual artists—along with their team, they invited 12 guests of different professions to enjoy a multisensory opera of 12 courses or “acts.”

fishspponGuests sat at a round table, surrounded by screens projecting changing images and computer-generated graphics, serenaded by music paired for each course of the meal. Even the servers’ uniforms were made specifically for the event.

The unequivocal pièce de resistance was the table, adorned with a three-dimensional light show projected onto the tablecloth and specially crafted tableware to highlight El Celler’s intricate dishes.

Plat Bajo el marWhile truly unforgettable, even for the audience, it is the preparation of the meal itself that consumes the better part of the film, where Aleu’s storytelling stylishly integrates the thought-provoking and creative musings of the participants.

El Somni does not put the meal on a pedestal as much as it contributes another medium to the artistic melding of this unique event. Pensive and otherworldly, told in broad brush strokes but unburdened of typical documentary detail, the camerawork offers an impressionistic interpretation of the experience from start to finish. Beautiful, haunting music and visual arts narrate the film, peppered with thematic commentaries ranging from the meaning of creativity to the temporal nature of life. The various art forms cannot help but strike a primal chord, even if some of their themes seem enigmatic, if not stretched at times to fit the context of the meal.

Although participants included some of the world’s most vibrant intellectuals and artists, the Roca brothers managed to be the only characters to come across as truly pretentious. Perhaps not unusual in haute cuisine, but nevertheless disappointing to those who believe that food should be universal. The Rocas’ gastronomic performance is a kind of creative masturbation.

somni rocatableThe event could easily be considered one of the early 21st century’s great artistic triumphs, yet one cannot help but find it unusually self-congratulatory in an era where food is so much more democratic. Three-star Michelin status or not, restaurants like El Cellar are snooty dinosaurs, but that should not prevent you from seeing the film.

Abreu rescues the Roca brothers from their own self-importance by focusing on the creative energy of all of the artists and by making the moment accessible for all of us to see. Like an airy performance art piece, this imaginative, one-of-a-kind fusion is to be devoured in one sitting and then digested over the next few days. What’s more, you’ll have the pleasure of only paying the price of admission rather than the tab.

Plat Mandala

Horizontal RuleloriLori grew up in Vermont, where locally made products—from small family farms, cottage industries, craftspeople and artisans—were part of the cultural landscape…

Being an incurable Francophile opened the doors to some surprising opportunities. After college she led bicycle tours throughout the wine regions of France. This led Lori into the wine industry in 1999, where she sold for retailers, distributors, and importers around the country. She wrote her master’s thesis on the future of organic wines, teaching English to French-speakers, and working as a staff writer for wine importer and author Kermit Lynch cultivated a passion for writing, which eventually snowballed into a major career shift as a full-time communications strategist and marketing specialist.

Visit Lori’s blog for her thoughtful musings on beverage and food.

For an in-depth look at the entire process, visit the El Somni web site, where you can spend hours discovering the entire creative process.

FilmStripDREAMLIKE STATES OF MIND

by Theresa Patzschke

(reprinted with permission from Contemporary Food Lab.]

(reprinted with permission from Contemporary Food Lab.]

The three of us left the cinema in three different, almost dreamlike, states of mind, which made it difficult to speak.

El Somni (The Dream), a movie about the Michelin-decorated Roca brothers, captivates and fascinates by showcasing a very special dinner. One that marks a breakthrough in food and art, as it stretches the boundaries of both, and blurs the borders between them.

The Stars: The Roca brothers, Joan, Jordi, and Joseph (a chef, sommelier and patîssier wizard) run Girona’s El Celler de Can Roca, named the world’s best restaurant in 2013 by San Pellegrino and Aqua Panna.

somniopera

The Dream: The three brothers dream about creating a Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk in the form of a opera that touches upon all the senses. One where music intertwines with poetry and visuals, and taking it a step further, taste with melodies, colors and shapes, to come together to melt in the mouth. The subtle poetry of wine lifts one to another realm while smell conjures nameless memories. All of the senses, including the gustatory and olfactory, are wielded together in order to create a never-before-seen perceptory experience.

The Trip: Twelve guests set out on a trip composed of 12 acts, such as space, courtship, death, and glory. It is impossible to keep up with their trip, since nobody apart from these twelve chosen ones invited to the operatic dinner have ever tried the Roca drug. (Those who have include El Bulli chef Ferran Adrià and actress Frida Pinto).

Based on a libretto, where each act is one course and each course represents one emotion, the brothers push boundaries, asking:  ‘How does the moon taste? How does space sound? How does it feel to be completely enraptured?’ The moon, we learn, tastes earthy, like truffle, and is served to the hypnotic melody of a woman’s voice. The plate resembles a moonscape, while the table and walls act as a projection screen for smoky and nebulous video animations.

SomnibreadThe trip continues through acts of water, hate, and love, with the diner eating his or her way through a world of love and erotism and even through death. In the end, the process of rebirth is symbolized through sourdough ice cream served on ‘breathing’ bread, with the bread actually moving.

The Film: Director and visual artist Frank Aleu gives viewers the chance to be part of the event. He skillfully combines the inspiration, process of production, and the dinner atmosphere itself in order to create a fairytale for our eyes and ears. Aleu succeeds in activating the rest of our senses through our imagination.

somnitwoThe Questionable: How figurative can and should the representation of emotions be? To what extent does the process captivate and transport us or deter and scare us away? Figurativeness, for example, is on display while the act of love is projected on the table during dinner. Although one might praise Aleu for his direction, I am critical of his animations, as the eroticism of the situation would have come across stronger in a subtler representation, rather than an airplane-security-film-reminiscent computerized couple engaged in the act. The music, acting like an aphrodisiac, turns into a moan while the pigeon breast is prepared to look like a vagina … What sounds absolutely deterring is ambiguous in the Roca script, as it raises the question: How deep can one engage with the direction of thoughts and emotions, if you completely give in to them and let yourself go, losing all inhibitions?

In this case, the pigeon-vagina could have a naturally stimulating, even explosive character, thereby fitting into the fairytale storyline. This raises the question that we as cinemagoers cannot easily answer: How strong is the power of food? What role does the sense of taste play in this multi-sensory experience? It could, for example, trump certain tasteless moments.

Open Questions: The Rocas create a new kind of culinary and sensory experience, but since it revolves around the Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk, one question remains: What about the relationship between cooking and art? While taking part in this operatic project, does cuisine reach the same level as other arts? Or is it the other way around: Is cuisine dependent on an artistic setting to be art? Two crucial artistic elements, the cook’s creative freedom and the aesthetic of taste (which has nothing to do with the visual aesthetics) can perhaps develop even more purely without the influences of other arts.

Thus, perhaps this opera is less about art than about food. Maybe it is about the act of eating, which the arts serve in taking it to an unimaginable level.

Horizontal Rule

TheresaAfter studying music and German literature in Berlin, Theresa went to the countryside to work with cows and pigs. She’s worked in orchestra management, explored the connections between music and neuroscience while writing for the United Academic Magazine, and now she explores the connections between nature and culture at Contemporary Food Lab – using food as the best and surely the most delicious entry point.

el somni prep 3Horizontal RuleGo behind the scenes and explore the many aspects of the film at the official website , where you will discover multiple levels of the creative process.

El Somni (The Dream) is one of four feature-length films presented in our Food Day / Film Day, October 24, at the Roxie Theatre and a program of shorts at the Exploratorium. To view a printable and downloadable program, click here. For more information and advance ticket sales, click here.

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