First Run Features // 2010 // 94 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Jason Panella // February 16th, 2013
"For three stars you have to be scared, you have to feel the adrenaline rush."
In the world of gastronomy, foodies judge top-notch restaurants by two separate yet equally important factors: the chefs, who cook the food, and the Michelin Guide, which weed out the offenders. These are their stories.
For nearly a century, the Michelin restaurant guide has been used to highlight restaurants of exceptional quality. Using a three-star system, the guide has created an elite ranking for gourmands around the world -- only 106 international restaurants were awarded three stars in 2012. Director Lutz Hachmeister's Three Stars tries to capture the daily workings of nine of these famous establishments, including the thoughts and struggles of the gifted chefs who run them.
The Michelin Guide has been the gold standard for restaurant rating guides for decades. The bestowal of a single star can turn a previously unknown spot into a culinary destination. Similarly, the loss the a star can have devastating consequences...like when renown French chef Bernard Loiseau committed suicide in 2003 after learning that his establishment was in danger of losing its three-star status.
Three Stars explores the day-to-day workings of nine restaurants, most of them sporting a Michelin three-star rating. The head chefs at these establishments get plenty of screen time too. Some, like Japanese chef Hideki Ishikawa, are fairly new to the Michelin guide -- he appreciates the accolades and attention the three stars have brought to his restaurant, but values his guests' opinions more than anything. Others, like Juan Mari Arzak, put a lot of stock in the Michelin system and strive to maintain their high ranking. One of the most fascinating voices, though, is René Redzepi. Redzepi and his Danish restaurant, Noma, have received a constant stream of "best restaurant in the world" awards since 2008 yet still only holds two Michelin stars...a fact that fills Redzepi with both frustration and indifference.
The nine restaurants on display in Three Stars represent different management and culinary philosophies. Some chefs are all energy, working on dishes and lashing out at sous chefs with the same spark; others coax top performance out of their employees with quiet confidence and camaraderie. Some of the chefs use cutting-edge science and molecular gastronomy to perfect their dishes; others prefer a more organic, traditional approach. And some of the chefs dive head-first into experimentation and brave taste fusions, while others value and utilize techniques handed down from past masters. Jean-Luc Naret, the Michelin guide director when Three Stars was filmed, shows up a couple of times to explain the broad and open-minded nature of the Michelin judging process; no biases, he explains, except for exceptional cooking. The truth of this statement is left to the viewer.
Similarly, Three Stars seems to reserve judgement for the Michelin guide as a whole. More up-and-comers are disregarding the guide and its ultimate value, especially since foodies consider it to have a French-food bias. But while these opinions are shared, they -- nor the opposing views -- are never completely embraced during the course of the movie. This is nice, in theory, but by acting as a fly on the kitchen wall for the nine restaurants, Three Stars ends up dragging at 90 minutes. There are some absolutely gorgeous shots of the Danish and French countryside, plenty of talking heads waxing philosophical, but a surprising lack of what should probably be a key to the movie: food. It also doesn't help that the movie bounces around from topic to topic, restaurant to restaurant. A typical chunk of the movie looks like this: talking head, a shot of people looking at a bowl in a kitchen, a shot of a chef wandering around the countryside/cityscape, another talking head. After a while, it gets exhausting.
First Run Features does a nice job with the Dolby 2.0 Stereo track and standard def 1.78:1 anamorphic visual presentation, both of which are high quality. But this release tanks on the extras, providing only some brief bios and nothing else.
Three Stars documents an interesting aspect of the food world, especially since the Michelin Guide still has a lot of pull for readers and restaurateurs alike. But while aesthetically pleasing, an aimless narrative makes for a watch that's as frustrating as it captivating.
Not guilty, but kind of underwhelming.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: First Run Features
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Spanish)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated