Jay Weissberg's Variety review states Eden misses its mark even as Weissberg concedes that it won the Lions Award and the Tiscali Audience Award at its world premiere at the Rotterdam International Film Festival earlier this year. Two awards and nearly 10,000 Euros: Who to believe?
Even German director and writer Michael Hofmann stated in an interview after his win, "I truly love my film, but I worried it might be a bit on the long side. Though no matter how often I watched it, that love remained. Some of the people I screened it to in Germany had some criticism, so I started to have some doubts too. But the audience decides. That's the magic of cinema."
Those pesky audiences!! Loving something the critics hate. But I can understand Eden being an audience favorite at Rotterdam, even though it did not fare so well at the Berlinale. It's a savory, heartwarming tale about two unlikely friends and their unusual love for each other. True, as Weissberg criticized, the lighting is sometimes murky (perhaps a fault of its transfer from HD?), but the dinner plates glow as if lit from within, providing muted illumination and focus. This is truly a "culinary romantic dramedy"—as the press notes attest—and in league with such films as Big Night or Like Water For Chocolate, or novels like Ntozake Shange's Cypress, Sassafrass and Indigo, which—even before the aforementioned films—taught me that cooking is domestic magic and that recipes and experimentation in the kitchen are sometimes the only spells left to us in a world devoid of magic.
Magic is certainly found in the kitchen of rotund and misanthropic chef Gregor (Josef Ostendorf) who, as a young boy seeing his mother pregnant, emulated her swollen belly and sought through overeating to achieve a similar effect. This decision caused him to become obese, unattractive, and a virginal asexual being lusting after waitresses in local cafes, huffily disregarding overheard comments unkindly levied against his appearance. As Benjamin Friedland has noted in the SFIFF program notes, Ostendorf "convey[s] a whirlwind of emotions without saying much." His eyes are like water toned by moody weather. Weissberg complains that not enough is told about Gregor's interiority for us to understand his motivations, but I completely disagree. Clearly this is a lonely man hurt by the world, conflicted by the appearance of Eden (Charlotte Roche) in his otherwise reciped life. It's perhaps true that Eden is selfish in her naivete, but when it comes to food—and cucina erotica at that!—can she be blamed for becoming spoiled as Gregor's private dinner guest and a bit oblivious to Gregor's own needs? Their friendship grows, as finally does her belly, when Gregor's food revitalizes her husband's interest in her and she becomes pregnant.
Eden's husband Xaver (Devid Striesow) is presented as something of a petulant failure who can't make it as an attorney, is frowned upon by his father, and ends up teaching senior citizens to dance and swim. Their firstborn Leonie (Leonie Stepp) has Down's Syndrome and his parents are critical of his marriage to Eden. But he loves her and becomes threatened by her burgeoning friendship with Gregor. He even suspects that the new child his wife is carrying is not his own. His destruction of Gregor's herb garden is humorous even as his destruction of Gregor's wine cellar proves disastrous. All this leads to an absurd but poignant climax that has to be seen to be believed.
Eden can be savored at three Kabuki screenings: Friday, April 21st at 7:00 pm; Monday, April 24th at 10:00 am and 5:45 pm. I suggest eating beforehand or else your stomach will begin growling.