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Note: This post may contain spoilers.
The Raw and the Cooked: A Culinary Journey through Taiwan (2012) makes a poor guide on this tour that feels more like an aimless wander than a directed trip.
This documentary had so much potential with its subject, but it falls short due to lack of contextualization and focus. Numerous shots of food in restaurants, marketplaces, and gardens fill the documentary, but almost no explanation of what we see occurs. Even contexts around the food warrant little to no explanation. We learn that farmers’ markets are new to Taiwan, see a couple minutes’ worth of food shots, and then move on to the next subject. But why are these markets new to Taiwan? How are they part of the culinary journey?
While some sequences run too short, others run too long, such as the extended one of the chef gathering local ingredients, preparing exotic dishes, and then serving them to a select group. We see him making the dishes, but he offers little insight into what he makes until he announces the dish’s name to the guests as he serves them. Great for the guests, but we in the audience are not invited, it seems.
Some sequences do focus on food, such as a food co-op of sorts, a fruit-drying operation, and the Amis food preparation. But the documentary seems more interested in anything but, such as the American and his rooftop composting system, the petro-chemical plant protests, the Amis cultural preservation, and the political musicians.
Director Monika Treut positions herself as our guide on this journey through her narration and sometimes her presence, but she is inconsistent in her roles. She walks with a friend through the nighttime marketplace, but we learn nothing of what she eats or sees. She describes the Amis feast, but the visuals offer no indication that she was even there.
The Raw and the Cooked has so many interesting parts to it and so many interesting people in it, but without more coherence in narration and balance in editing this journey is a bumpy one.