Peter Strickland has become the provocateur du jour for those into obscure cinema, and Flux Gourmet continues cementing his legacy. Where Berberian Sound Studio and In Fabric are gonzo commentaries on genre, Flux Gourmet is almost a self-parody about the fragile bond between artistic freedom, anxious backers, and receptive audiences. By acknowledging absurdism as a marketable commodity, Strickland falls into a performative rabbit hole that blends Velvet Buzzsaw, Wes Anderson, and Art School Confidential. It's fearless, flummoxing, and filled with inexplicable expressionism that will appeal to renegade creators who only trust themselves, not someone else's process. There's no spoon-feeding from Strickland — at least not narratively.
A plethora of auditory weirdness transpires within the walls of Jan Stevens' (Gwendoline Christie) premier institute. Elle di Elle (Fatma Mohamed), Lamina Propria (Ariane Labed), and Billy Rubin (Asa Butterfield) are a "culinary and alimentary" collective invited by Jan as her latest residency. A flatulent journalist with gastrointestinal issues (Stones, played by Makis Papadimitriou) is there to document the nameless collective's journey through "sonic catering" — the method of using food sounds on stage as an exhibition. Egos clash, investors get demanding, and what transpires is the quirkiest, kinkiest version of VH1's Behind The Music imaginable, played out in real time.
Flux Gourmet will mean the most to those who create, toiling away at personal passions while onlookers and bankrollers make demands. Strickland's commentary on the creative process is airtight, and his own film's execution mirrors the tenuous relationship between Jan and Elle — a representation of studios who pass notes to filmmakers and the frustrations of sacrificing vision for wider appeal. There's a genuine conflict at the core of Flux Gourmet as Elle's bandmates become more stubborn, or Stones becomes addicted to spotlights versus documenting from afar. The subjectivity of artwork becomes a punchline, thematic conflict, and driving force behind dramatic humor — which might only engage those who've felt such pressures.
Strickland works against himself by running Flux Gourmet closer to the two-hour mark, given how viewers will love or hate his stylistic choices. The perils of artistic expression provide flatter material than where Strickland takes the horrific wardrobe curiosities throughout In Fabric, for example. Performances follow Strickland's staccato directorial rhythms that are shorter, punchier, and don't linger — but they're all moving towards Elle's inevitable finale show under Jan's tutelage. That's not to say Flux Gourmet is "expected." Yet, Strickland's almost proving his point about evil corporate oversight and expressive indulgences by telling his collective's story the way he does. The lines between commentary and embodiment blur.
Oddly enough, Flux Gourmet can feel repetitive as Elle's band of saucy songsters runs through the same cycles — same for Stones' bellowing bowel problems. Strickland keeps making Elle, Lamina, and Billy pretend they're in a grocery store as one of Jan's exercises, which loses its mystery despite Jan's escalating improv instructions. Performances favor electronic musical components of mixer loops driven by feedback underneath the sounds of blenders whirring or juicy meats sizzling, which again loses the appeal of differentiation. It's an odd complaint to make about anything with Strickland's name on it because he's anything but predictable — and yet Flux Gourmet feels its length where In Fabric speeds by despite boasting a longer duration.
Hilarity stems from how actors portray what's occurring on screen, and there's no shortage of commitment. The way Stones slinks about at night to empty himself of gassy bubbles out of embarrassment or Jan's insistence that Elle should erase a few seconds of flanger distortion mid-track. Richard Bremmer's Dr. Glock will be a fan favorite the way he tortures his patients by withholding lab results or sips wine while performing a colonoscopy in front of a crowd. Expect splendidly performative moments as Elle recreates Stones' intimate struggles through food-based interpretations or Billy confesses his nipple-twisting games he'd play with older women. Strickland's best at coaxing deadpan performances from his cast despite off-kilter or excessively exaggerated dialogue, and his strengths are still present.
Here's your takeaway in fewer words: Flux Gourmet is a good Peter Strickland film, but not his greatest. The messy marriage of mastication and industrial warehouse music wears thin, yet it's still rich with Strickland's sensual curiosity about where boundaries exist. The cast is more than solid, humor in full view, and although there's intrigue lost as another performance group faces all the same hurdles, storytelling still benefits from Strickland's vision. Even when he's not firing on all cylinders, his work still demands to be seen for nothing more than a breath of fresh cinematic air.
Movie Score: 3.5/5