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Review: The Recipe for Balance


- Óscar Bernàcer dishes up a mouth-watering documentary with just a soupçon of PR — a reflection on creative collaboration, the necessity of reinvention and how to emerge from the pandemic

Review: The Recipe for Balance
Ricard Camarena in The Recipe for Balance

Just a few days ago, the 68th San Sebastián International Film Festival played host to the premiere of Óscar Bernàcer’s culinary documentary The Recipe for Balance [+see also:
interview: Óscar Bernàcer
film profile
, starring renowned chef Ricard Camarena (holder of two Michelin stars and winner of the National Gastronomy Award) and his partner in life and in work, Mari Carmen Bañuls. This film has been profoundly shaped by the COVID-19 crisis: production began as planned in January 2020, was mothballed during the lockdown, then recommenced on an entirely different tack. The same could no doubt be said of many of us in our lives and careers.

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The Recipe for Balance follows the pair closely as it takes a deep dive into their remarkable collaborative relationship. Ricard sprinkles everything with ideas, risk and creativity; Mari sees that his visionary zeal is translated into edible reality (in the film industry, she’d be a formidable producer). However, there’s an abrupt twist as the pandemic advances and the pair’s redoubtable rhythmic flow is forcibly interrupted. Bernàcer adeptly shifts focus to explore this moment of stillness and reflection — and uncertainty — that Ricard and Mari use as an opportunity to rework their plans for the future and enjoy some respite.

As soon as the restaurants are allowed to open again, the dynamic duo waste no time in adapting to the protocols of the new reality, their energy and enthusiasm undimmed. With all necessary health and safety precautions intact, the film documents their return to work and highlights the shifting subtleties of Camarena’s craft, as he discovers that the flavours of fresh produce grown in eastern Spain have intensified during the forced hiatus.

One of the most memorable aspects of the film is the fact that human faces appear on-screen sporting masks — an accessory now so indispensable it might just dethrone the mobile phone. One consequence of this is that the eyes become the most expressive feature for conveying emotion, something that Bernàcer seeks to emphasise through skilful camera work. Another striking feature is the use of a grid-style split screen to create a sense of the fast-paced, multi-tasking environment of the kitchen. As the director acknowledged in conversation with Cineuropa, this device also reflects “the way we learned to use gallery view on our computer screens to catch up with friends and family during lockdown.”

In contrast, in exterior scenes nature are evocatively symbolic of refreshment and freedom, something we all yearned for while confined to our homes, as well as underscoring Camarena’s ties to his rural upbringing. Ultimately, The Recipe for Balance is perhaps most intriguing as an illustration of the challenges of overcoming adversity and adapting to an altered world — one where, sadly, not all businesses in this industry have fared so well.

The Recipe for Balance was produced by Kaishaku Films and Nakamura Films, which will oversee its upcoming distribution. Spain’s Agencia Freak will be handling sales.

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(Translated from Spanish)

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