I finally caught the movie Kings of Pastry over the weekend, and I can’t say there’s much there to recommend. Which is to say, it’s a movie that teaches you virtually nothing about pastry, the profession of baking or even the ostensible subject of the film, the Meilleurs Ouvriers de France competition. I’m still marveling at how an 80-minute film on pastry managed to miss all that, but it did.
I think the big problem is that structurally Kings of Pastry is little more than a collection of un-narrated snippets punctuated by the odd interview clip. What you end up getting is an outline of the M.O.F. challenge but none of the detail that would make it truly interesting to watch. All that’s clear is that’s it’s a high-pressure contest that takes three days to complete. Beyond that we learn virtually nothing, which is why the penultimate scenes of the movie are like watching a championship cricket game without knowing any of the rules or the relative strengths and weaknesses of the players. Everything about it says it’s important and dramatic, but it’s hard to appreciate why.
Beyond that the film gives the unfortunate impression that the craft of professional pastry-making is mostly about producing elaborate — and let’s face it, extremely gaudy — sugar and chocolate sculptures. Now I’m not classically trained, but even I know that those sorts of pieces are but one (admittedly spectacular) facet of the pastry arts. There are many, many other skills that a world-class pastry chef needs to possess, but alas we’re not given much of a window into those. What a pity.
Kings of Pastry doesn’t even succeed as a human drama, since we never really come to know the film’s main subject, pastry chef Jacquy Pfeiffer, nor care terribly much about him. I can’t say exactly why that is, other than he comes off as a somewhat detached personality. Whether he’s really like that or that the persona we meet is the fault of the filmmakers is hard to tell.
In the end all Kings of Pastry seems to accomplish is a portrayal of pastry makers as a bunch of fussy, obsessive and mostly overfed aesthetes who cry when their sugar flowers break. That may be true, but we don’t need to go broadcasting it to the world, now do we? I mean some of us have our pride.