This past weekend I began the day with a booze-fuelled brunch, followed by afternoon cocktails and an evening BYO BBQ. The hangover came late on Sunday but the real pain lay in wait. I spent three days in agony before finally seeing a doctor to find out that I’d fucked the acidity levels of my stomach. This being my first visit in 17 years, Dr. Chang gives me some ulcer medication for what is more like acid reflux.
I pop a pill from my prescription and head straight to a screening of Peter Strickland’s latest: Flux Gourmet. Within the opening moments, the protagonist is diagnosed with something akin to acid reflux. He describes the same symptoms of trapped wind that I have been enduring, that I continue to endure, the pain as well as its social stigma. The audience laugh; I laugh. Bums and farts are undeniably funny, children know this instinctively. And still we chinstrokers of the dark guffaw, not at the sound of a particularly melodic or prolonged parp, but of a man describing the torture that he experiences abdominally in trying to avoid slipping one out.
Perhaps its laughter in the absence of farts, laughter at the wondrous farts of our collective imagination. Or maybe it’s because we empathise and understand, we know the base level of humour, and therefore the inevitable shame. I for one know the fucking pain, I feel it pulsing inside me between laughs, a knot of tension that daren’t be untied in such a confined, public space. Still, on with the show.
Flux Gourmet is delightful.
Focussed on a Sonic Catering Institute and the culinary band they have in residence, it plays in this world whilst wringing out the tropes of bands whose members are filled with sexual tension and rivalry, pompous performance theatre and classic horror cinema – and yet never feels insincere.
Not so much tongue in cheek, but twitch at the lips, glint in the eye. At points it seems deadly serious, others extremely playful and yet the two are intrinsically bound.
Serious ideas, ailments, psychology and human drama are explored, purposefully encased in art that announces ahead of time that it is in on the joke, and you’re laughing at the wrong part. And yet that glint in the eye.
It is so stylistically imagined, so wonderfully composed and deliberate that it feels perfectly balanced. Kaleidoscopic Giallo nightmares are cemented in assurance by the score, pricked with occasional nonsense that allow you humorous relief, that sly wink that lets you in – it is carefully designed. This is no accident, which means there is masterful subtlety at work.
Unlike contemporary Yorgos Lanthimos, the absurdity here is just so, allowing you to forget the silliness of the world before being reminded with a bang, by the disgruntled culinary band The Mangrove Snacks as they throw a terrapin through the window. It flirts with the obscene and taboo, but once again puts it in a frame and strokes its chin before nudging you with its elbow, snickering under its breath.
Our narrator, the one diagnosed with a disturbance in his gut, is a portly Greek man who speaks in a bassy, confessional manner. Combined with the endless scarlet backdrops and food arrangements, it feels at times like Almodovar. Rather than comment on the events playing out before us, he talks of the torture of his own physical ailments – his endless discomfort revealed to the audience in confidence, but due to the nature of his complaint, and the flatulence that it entails, it is made comical. And yet this pain is real, and its depiction authentic. A Buñuellian raised eyebrow, a judgement we the audience must question ourselves.
Flux Gourmet combines many of the themes present in Stricklands former films, the middle segment of a Venn Diagram that contains horror, sex, food and death. It feels most like his previous film, especially in the way that it satirises the experience of shopping – with In Fabric dissecting clothes shopping as a kind of capitalist ritual, whereas this puts food shopping on a stage, drawing attention to minor shared experiences like some form of Lynchian observational comedy.