The Atlantic Film Festival 2010: Kings Of Pastry

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Kings Of Pastry

Directed by Chris Hegedus
D.A. Pennebaker (co-director)

My biggest regret about going to see D.A. Pennebaker’s Kings of Pastry? Going in without eating first. There is food. Lots of it. Pretty food. Food that I would kill to be eating right now. The documentary tells the story of a group of French pastry chefs competing in the prestigious “Un des Meilleurs Ouvriers de France” competition. The competition, held every four years, determines who gets to call himself a “Meilleur Ouvrier de France” (MOF for short) of pastry making, a title given to the best pastry makers of the country. While the film follows three of the pastry chefs as they prepare for and participate in the competition, it focuses specifically on Jacquy Pfeiffer.

Pfeiffer, a teacher at a French Pastry College in Chicago, has been preparing to enter the contest for four years. It quickly becomes obvious why Pennebaker chose to focus on Pfeiffer in particular. While just as serious a competitor as the other two, Pfeiffer has a wonderful sense of humour and his interaction with fellow teachers and friends, two of them MOFs themselves, is incredibly entertaining to watch.

Even if you think that the world these men live and work in is silly and unimportant at first, this film will change your mind within minutes. The stakes are high and the world of pastry making is far from sweet and sugary. Not unlike 2007’s The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, this film manages to make a seemingly trivial competition and its players (in the case of King of Kong competing for the top score in Donkey Kong) seem life and death and will leave you on the edge of your seat. More than a few times, the entire audience let out an audible gasp as various of the 16 competitors screwed up, broke sugar sculptures, didn’t finish on time and were generally at the end of their wits and wills.

In Kings of Pastry, Pennebaker, who is known for documentaries like the Bob Dylan film Don’t Look Back, is able to craft a riveting and entertaining documentary that never forces its point of view. At times, the subjects interact directly with the person behind the camera, which makes the whole thing seem that much more free and organic. The only thing I will say is that Pennebaker does overdo it with his use of extreme close ups. A few times this is extremely effective as we zoom in on the player’s reactions to what is going on but most of the time, it feels strange and somewhat disconcerting.

In the end, not everyone can become a MOF. Before a teary-eyed president of the jury announces the winning competitors, he proclaims that, “I wish that I had 16 names on this paper. But I don’t.” Without giving the end and the winners away, the end result is both surprising and emotionally bracing.

Laura Holtebrinck

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