Every cinephile—and, boy, there’s a contentious term—has an equally contentious and elaborate metaphor for cinema. Some folks liken the process of movie-making to writing with a pen, while others compare directing a movie with conducting an orchestra performance. Fassbinder once said that he was trying to construct a house with his films. (Serge Daney: “He wore himself out constructing a place to house his dreams.”) Robert Altman sure loved his jazz metaphors, didn’t he?
For me, filmmaking is like cooking. Like the movie director, the chef brings together disparate ingredients into a cohesive, delicious whole through well-timed infusions of ingredients, mixtures made up of a variety of elements, applying exposure to chemical processes (heat, emulsion), and by choreographing a number of different—and sometimes conflicting—skill sets into a harmonious experience. Each begins with a recipe (screenplays and/or storyboards for the filmmaker) that gets adapted, refined, and ignored by turns as the dish gets underway.
So, imagine my pleasant surprise when gorjus points me to his friend Bobby Anderson’s gorgeous, two-minute short, Pho You. In two minutes, set to a Big Star classic track (if you know the band, you’ll get the title’s joke), Anderson documents a couple’s charming and delightful trip to a Vietnamese restaurant to eat my favorite comfort food: a big steaming bowl of pho. And I do mean my favorite—I recognized the place’s floor tiles, standard-issue diner tables, and chintzy décor as soon as they walked in. Though there is a clear narrative of a couple’s night out, Pho You concerns the atmosphere of the place more than forward propulsion, and the sensuous experience of tucking into hot Vietnamese soup. Anderson’s camera gets it all—the glistening and slippery noodles, the raw vegetables to be added to the mix, the steam billowing upward from the broth, the way the liquid swirls into a dipped spoon, the quiet joy of tasting pleasure. Through visuals and sound, the movie comes close to capturing the feeling of taste, smell, and touch. Pho You is tactile, even though it’s shot on digital video.
I wrote about Saigon, the restaurant locale of Pho You, here.