A documentary by Peter Svatek. In English and Italian, with English subtitles. Rating unavailable.
Italian supercook Massimo Bottura, adoringly profiled in Chef’s Table and other epicurean small-screen programs, is something of an activist in his own kitchen-bound way.
In the pleasantly ramshackle Theater of Life, he puts his money where other people’s mouths are by travelling from Modena to Milan—during the larger, food-and-fashion-centred city’s Expo 2015—to open the Refettorio Ambrosiano, to feed the local homeless and recent refugees.
Converted from an abandoned theatre (hence the doc’s title), the ad hoc Refettorio is a soup kitchen that elegantly recycles leftovers from restaurants and bakeries.
Quebec-based filmmaker Peter Svatek, better known for directing Lifetime-type TV movies, lets his camera alternate between up-close kitchen visits—there are, as you can imagine, a number of variations on French toast—and urban wanderings with the hard-living recipients of this gastronomic largesse.
These include a cheerful Senegalese woman who dreams of being a model (despite being confined to a wheelchair), a heavily tattooed street-brawler type who found work helping people in a psychiatric hospital, and a troubled couple living in a train station, as they refuse to risk overcrowded shelters.
The male part of that duo, also travelling by wheelchair, does a notably Italian version of Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”, serving as a kind of motif for the 90-minute film.
Elsewhere in this somewhat repetitive structure, there are quick, behind-the-counter comments from Denmark’s René Redzepi and French trendsetter Alain Ducasse, with the latter observing that about half the world is overeating while the rest struggle for not enough.
There’s a brief closing montage of other visiting kitchen kings (and a few queens), suggesting that Svatek had too many cooks. Still, he gives the last word to Bottura, who insists that high-end food needs to be more than aesthetic: “It must have an ethical meaning, too.”