Walking into Bon Appétit on Saturday night, all I knew about the movie was that it was set in a restaurant and it was a romantic comedy of sorts. Though I normally abhor romantic comedies of any sort, I thought that seeing a romantic comedy in another language would be different and less cliché than in English. I believe that movies in other languages, whether they are romances or not, have this ability (in my mind) to make emotions and situations seem more raw and realistic than in most English films (though there are exceptions to that rule). As I saw the trailer for the movie in German and a synopsis that I’d read seem to claim that the movie would be in Dutch, I fully expected the movie to be a foreign language of some sort with subtitles.
I was surprised to discover when the movie started, that only a few conversations here and there were in Spanish and German, the rest of the dialogue was in English. Given the movie was set in Switzerland it wasn’t a leap to expect that many people, especially the main characters who worked at a prestigious restaurant in the heart of Zurich would be fluent in English.
I was hooked into the story from the beginning. A young ambitious Spanish chef named Daniel leaves Spain for the opportunity to work for the prestigious Thomas Wackerle in his famous restaurant in Zurich and he looks at this opportunity as his ticket to make something of himself in the restaurant industry and make a name for himself. In the beginning of the film, Daniel comes across as someone who has made career ambition his single priority in life. He puts off responding to his girlfriend back home and puts the brakes on her idea to move with him to Zurich. To Daniel, coming to Zurich clearly means no distractions for his career.
Due to his talent, Daniel quickly rises in the ranks at Thomas Wackerle’s restaurant and works alongside Thomas’s right hand man, Hugo and sommelier Hanna. Daniel is instantly attracted to Hanna and discovers, while on a walk home, that they share common ground. After expressing his belief that life isn’t like romance films, Hanna kisses Daniel; which proves to be a turning point, not only in his relationship with her; but in his focus.
Despite learning from Hugo that Hanna is in love with Thomas and has been in an affair with him for a year, Daniel continues to bond with Hanna. One of my favorite scenes happens in the first half of the movie when Daniel visits Hanna at her apartment and she challenges him to cook dinner for them using only two eggs, some pasta, an orange and some mint candies. The end result is nothing short of amazing and it honestly made me wish that I was as talented and creative with food. What was more significant in that sequence, I thought was the fact that Daniel and Hanna talk on the phone the entire night as Daniel walked home. And at the end of that sequence, at 5 in the morning with the sun rising, Daniel stands and describes the mood of the city with Hanna listening intently. To me, it was one of the defining moments that illustrated how strong their bond with each other really was.
The situation comes to a head as Daniel, Hanna and Hugo go a road trip that eventually sees them end up in Daniel’s hometown in Spain, where he is finally (and literally) forced to confront the loose ends of his past in the form of his ex-girlfriend. It is then that we as an audience start to see Daniel grow up and take responsibility for his actions and even start to grow into his own.
However, the situation after the road trip quickly deteriorates and culminates in Hanna returning home to Munich and Hugo verbally berates Daniel on the street outside the restaurant for still being afraid to take a leap of faith and do what he really wants with his life.
After some soul searching, Daniel patches things up with Hugo who once again encourages him to take a leap of faith; which leads to Daniel going to Munich to visit Hanna. It is there that we finally see Daniel grow into a mature, selfless person capable and willing to go after what he wants and also willing to let go of his single-minded career ambition. In the end, Daniel finally realizes that to grow in life is to take risks and make changes.
I won’t spoil the ending, all I will say is that it isn’t a happy ending in the traditional Hollywood sense. All three of the main characters who met and experienced growing pains together at Thomas Wackerle’s restaurant found their own paths in life and yet, they were still connected to one another.
One of the biggest reasons why this film speaks to me in a way that no other so-called romantic movie ever has is that it is realistic. Just because you feel a certain way about someone doesn’t mean that your place is with them or that your own dreams are any less important. There are times that it is much more important to let go and be willing to explore, find out who you are, what you want and where your place is in the world. And that, to me, is real life. Even more importantly, the movie sends the message that although we all have our own paths, the bonds we forge and the connections we share are just as vital and as strong as they ever have been; and physical distance can’t change that.
Overall, I think director David Pinillos did an excellent job in painting a portrait of what is essentially, real life. The restaurant itself becomes an afterthought and I feel that the life lessons could have been taught in any other setting. However, it was still great to see Switzerland and the beautiful scenery in Spain. It was a great movie and I definitely would encourage you to put it on your rental list or look for it on Netflix 🙂