Valentine’s Day, good food at an upmarket restaurant, fancy wine and love couples for company. This indeed is the perfect recipe for a culinary masterpiece. Brasserie Romantique by Joel Vanhoebrouk is a admirable attempt at serving you fine cuisine, with large doses of drama.
Set in a restaurant somewhere in Belgium, the action happens at the Brasserie (upscale restaurant) on Valentine’s Day. The hostess and co-owner Pascaline (Sara De Roo) is looking forward to a full house this February 14. It’s pouring outside, yet no one has cancelled, so it’s probably going to be busy. She works with her brother (the chef and co-proprietor Angelo, played to high volume dramatic effect by Axel Daeseleire) who calls her Sis. The celebrity waiter Lesley is running late and Pascaline is not happy and so the evening begins.
Pascaline is not just the co-owner, she is the matriarch of the restaurant. She runs it with a gentle iron hand. It’s interesting how when one of the guests come in and want to be seated at will, Pascaline bluntly tells them that they are to show up at her restaurant, be seated at designated spots, eat what’s already on the chef’s menu and worry about just paying the bill. A very cut throat, rather dry and cold way to entertain her guests, who perhaps keep coming back for the food. Sara De Roo owns the film, as it’s about her restaurant, how she runs it and who she engages with.
She has a surprise in store for her, when an ex-boyfriend Frank shows up at the restaurant with a reservation under another name, hoping to win her back. He apparently left her high and dry many years ago and now wishes to reclaim her heart. He offers to sweep her away to Buenos Aires, their dream destination from all those years ago.
Frank spends all evening trying to convince Pascaline to come away with him. He confesses how he still loves her and wants them to have their life back. Pascaline for her part finds it very enticing, given how entrenched she is in the routine of running the restaurant; she has everything pretty down to a T. But she is also still reeling from the heartbreak she suffered at Frank’s hands. It’s not going to be easy to convince her.
The guests who decide to spend the most romantic night of the year at the Brasserie are staged to have different life stories. The ones that eventually become part of the narrative are essentially two couples and a woman. Roos and Paul, a couple married for two decades; Paul is a car salesman (or so it seems) and the wife in her words “finds her marriage like the prison Alcatraz.” The fact that Paul brings her the same Chanel fragrance two years in a row and that she makes up a lover to just prove to him how unhappy she in the relationship, is their Valentine story.
Walter is a geologist and has a date with a woman named Sylvie, who he met online. He has the habit of talking to himself (and also to his alter-ego when he looks at the mirror), so spends close to half his evening talking to a Sylvie he makes up in his head: the hyper sexualized tall blond haired woman, who just wants to eat Walter up with a spoon. It takes the real “regular” Sylvie to shake him up a little and bring him back to reality.
Mia, a fifty year old woman, who has been stood up by her date for the night, sits at the table swallowing chocolate-fudge. Lesley (the waiter) is intrigued by her and when Mia swallows a piece of fudge and almost chokes on it, that’s all it takes for Lesley to give her the attention she desperately needs.
The narrative has elements of humour, talks about modern relationships in their various shades and colours, and includes some random dialogues about Belgian politics (the country always on the brink of breaking up into two). From an outsider’s view… it’s just some first world problems. With all the romantic meanderings, the film is beautifully shot, when we see the food as a metaphor for celebrating life. What is interesting is that the food, while it promises to satiate with every morsel and not disappoint, doesn’t get the attention it deserves and all of it is kept for the unsatisfied romantics. The film does falter a little when all we see on screen is squabbling couples.
While Paul chases Roos as she rushes out of the restaurant, then in a fit of anger they end up having sex in the car, only for Roos to turn around and leave him right after. Walter finally comes to realize that the Sylvie he sees sitting in front of him is real. She may not be the woman of his dreams but real nonetheless. And Pascaline takes Frank up on his offer and decides to leave with him. It’s only a few minutes into the taxi ride to the airport that a realization dawns and she steps out of the car and tells Frank that she can’t go with him.
Pascaline chooses her life over the dreams of Buenos Aires, Walter takes the hand of the only real love he has known for a while, Paul sits helplessly as Roos and the life he has known walks away from him and Lesley gets on his bike with Mia and rides away. All of these people are just like the millions of us who crave “love.” I wonder how attainable it really is, when most often we are left denied.
Brasserie Romatique is out on DVD on May 5, watch it on a rainy evening and you will be left pondering over matters of your own heart.