Directed by Lê Bảo
Distributed by MUBI
Written by Michael Clawson
The influence of Pedro Costa looms large in Lê Bảo’s “Taste,” a film of striking visual depth and clarity. Set in the watery slums of Chi Minh City, Vietnam, the richly colored, crisply defined chiaroscuro in images of dilapidated shacks and narrow, debris-strewn alleyways immediately recalls the Portuguese shantytowns seen in such masterworks from Costa as “Colossal Youth” and the more recent “Vitalina Varela.” But for all its aesthetic prowess, “Taste” is a bit lacking in resonance, and on occasion, too actively pursuant of the weird.
With exposition kept to a minimum (the first line of translated spoken dialogue doesn’t come until the twenty-minute mark), Lê’s storytelling is visually driven. We follow Bassley (Olegunleko Ezekiel Gbenga), a Nigerian soccer player living in Vietnam, who is kicked off his team on account of a leg injury. With four older Vietnamese women he meets through work at a hot air balloon canvas factory, he moves into an empty building, and together, the five of them form a kind of miniature commune. Quiet and calm rule the group’s days as they take their time bathing and then preparing meals in the nude, their bare flesh, warmly lensed by cinematographer Vinh Phúc Nguyễn, standing in stark contrast to the cold hard slabs of concrete that are the walls, ceiling, and floor of their building. Bassley and the women barely talk to each other; “Taste” is more concerned with the sensuality in scenes of intimate cohabitation than in character psychology or dramatic eventfulness.
As handsomely crafted as the film is, its fixation on the corporeal can feel too rigorous. At first, it’s ravishing to see how light strikes and pools on Bassley and the women’s skin as they live in each other’s company. But as the film wears on, and the images of carefully posed nude bodies accumulate, Lê’s formalist approach begins to play as a somewhat hollow exercise.
“Taste” is streaming on MUBI.