Ratatouille

(x-posted to The Valve)

I am melancholy to think of the moment in which this gorgeous, sunset-toned film appears. Every frame of it is washed in romantic pastels, an opulence that alone made it worthwhile to me. To the extent that the film has a point, it is a diatribe against criticism, except under particular circumstances that the film itself memorably defines — when the critic risks himself in defense of something new. There are warm niches for the rats and human beings in this film to occupy; for example, the scene where the food critic, eating a spoonful of ratatouille, is carried back to his childhood, could very well be a statement about the air of homeliness and familiarity that is always as present as strangeness in great art. Looking ahead to I’m Not There, I am thinking that the folksiness of Dylan’s music always complemented and deepened the hallucinatory carnival overfilling his lines. Ratatouille does not know quite what it is — consider the final scene, where the critic is living happily as an “investor” in the new restaurant. That investment is, quite literally, what critics do, and what everybody else does as well when it comes to art. They give to art the stuff of their lives: their time, their hopes, their conversations. Works of art spark friendships and kindle desires, all secondhand in conversations between people: awkward, ardent statements that ripen into criticism. Nonetheless I am sure that, just as Brad Bird thought it was profound to rate bad art higher than criticism, other people will think his movie profound for saying it. Some will interpret the scene where Ego eats ratatouille as the long-awaited victory of the merely personal, pastel tears and all. For my part, the scene of Ego’s salvation reminds me of sitting right outside of Blackstone’s, in a rain-weary corner of Oxford, reading a pink and orange volume of Proust. Proust is more than ninety years old; it took many voices, and much embittered and questionable pride in what is rare, to ensure that some of that endless, extravagant, nearly unreadable novel survived long enough to become an ingredient in Bird’s parable of the new.

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