THE STORY – A film about the Troisgros family and their three restaurants: Troisgros, Le Central and La Colline, located in three neighboring locations in central France. Troisgros, a restaurant founded 93 years ago, has had three Michelin stars for 55 years and in 2020 was awarded a Michelin green star for exemplary sustainable practices. Much of the film takes place at Troisgros. The present chef, César Troisgros, is the fourth generation of the family to be in charge at Troisgros. The film shows the day-to-day operations involving the purchase, preparation and service at this restaurant.
THE CAST – N/A
THE TEAM – Frederick Wiseman (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 240 Minutes
At age 93, filmmaker Frederick Wiseman has had a lifetime fascination with how things work. In a career as a documentary filmmaker that has lasted 55+ years, Wiseman is particularly interested in the process, and in his films, he specializes in the inner workings of such large institutions as schools, museums, prisons, and mental health facilities. But he has never tackled an institution that’s as deceptively complicated to run as a restaurant.
Not just any restaurant, however. In “Menus-Plaisirs Les Troisgros,” his 47th feature film, Wiseman has trained his focus on Le Bois sans Feuilles (The Woods Without Leaves), a 3-star Michelin restaurant nestled in France’s picturesque Loire region. For generations, the restaurant has been run by the Troisgros family, pioneers in the idea of nouvelle cuisine, a manner of cooking that’s far from the heavy scenes traditionally thought of as French food. Instead, their ingredients are leaner, fresher, delivered farm-to-table (whenever possible), and plated with artistry.
Le Bois sans Feuilles is currently being operated by two generations of the Troisgros family: Michel, who has for years been considered one of France’s leading practitioners of nouvelle cuisine, and his son César, who is now the restaurant’s premier chef and responsible for the restaurant’s day-to-day operations. It’s precisely how this father-and-son team works and the many fine details they must face each day that has captured the focus of Wiseman’s camera in this four-hour film, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival.
Wiseman’s breakthrough as a documentarian more than half a century ago was his development of the “fly-on-the-wall” approach to filmmaking. There are no talking heads in a Wiseman film, nor are its principal subjects, such as Michel and César, ever identified as such. Instead, the audience is plunked down in the middle of whatever institution Wiseman is chronicling, and it’s up to us to figure out who the primary characters are and what the power dynamic is within that institution, just like we have to do in life. With this approach, we are quickly immersed in this world and become more fully invested in its subjects’ actions.
In “Menus-Plaisirs Les Troisgros,” Wiseman has chosen to chronicle a typical day at Le Bois sans Feuilles and capture the fine details necessary to make that day a successful one. The film begins at the local farmers market, as any restaurant day would, where César and his team inspect and select the freshest produce available for today’s menu. Back at the restaurant, the lunch and dinner menus are finalized, and recipes are tested, adjusting the ingredients and seasoning for taste. In the front of the house, the staff reviews the guest list for the lunch seating, noting their guests’ allergies, foods they don’t like or can’t eat, and special occasions, such as birthdays and anniversaries. Wiseman films this all with an impartial eye, letting the daily process, which is so critical to this restaurant’s success, play out.
The lunch portion of the day ends about two hours into the film, and there’s the dinner seating still to go.
For all of the acclaim that Wiseman has received over the years, one key area that often goes unmentioned is his unerring skill in pacing his films. Four hours is a long time to expect a movie audience to sit and absorb what you’re saying, but the editing in virtually every one of his films never allows for the pace to lag. Even here, when Michel visits the local artisans — the farmers, the vintners, the cheese makers — who provide the products so crucial to the success of the restaurant’s cuisine, those segments never feel like filler. Instead, their pacing is so expertly done that they all blend seamlessly into the fabric of the larger story.
As important as exploring a subject’s process is for Wiseman, one key element that sets apart his documentaries is that he never loses sight of the people within. Here, with a colorful restaurant staff with such charismatic leaders as Michel and César at the helm, Wiseman’s direction rises to the challenge, helping to make “Menus-Plaisirs Les Troisgros” a top-tier addition to the already distinguished filmography of a brilliant filmmaker.