This film review was originally written for the online magazine, Eat Drink Films. It is used here with their permission. El Somni will have its San Francisco premiere on October 24th at Eat Drink Film's Food Day/Film Day celebration.
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.
Aleu’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.”
Guests 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. While 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. The 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. Aleu 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 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.