Reel Food [Comebacks]

381   It’s a rare film about haute cuisine that manages to come down to Earth and stir deep emotions, too; Big Night is an easy exception, but there are many more misses than hits in the ouevre. And great documentaries about food are rarer still. So I was pleased to see the excellent documentary LE CIRQUE: A TABLE IN HEAVEN on the schedule for HBO on Monday, December 29th. This is a great one to watch at home over Christmas break, and you’ll want a good bottle of red wine to go with it.

Completed in 2006, the film, which debuted at IFC’s Stranger Than Fiction series in April of 2007, documents the rise-and-fall-and-rise-again of restaurateur Sirio Maccioni and his famed eatery, Le Cirque, once the most celebrated restaurant in New York. Catering to celebrities, Presidents, and, famously—thanks to Sirio’s legendary hospitality—seemingly anyone who walked in the door, Le Cirque became a symbol of the good life, dreams achieved, abbondanza.

The film opens with scenes of Le Cirque 2000’s heyday at the Palace, when Henry Kissinger was a regular, and jumps to its closing in 2004, beset by the cold financial realities of Post 9/11 New York. Much of the rest of the film depicts the fraught lead up to its glittery reopening 2006, on East 58th street, and the internecine conflicts among Maccioni and his three sons that tear at the very fabric of the family. And then there’s the bruising two-star review from Frank Bruni after the party’s over, since upgraded.

“As his sons prepare to assume leadership of a revamped Le Cirque,” the IFC premiere night notes read, “the two generations battle over the relative merits of catering to celebrities, spotlighting a cutting-edge chef, and always including prosciutto with melon on the menu. An extraordinary exploration of a family business caught in the world’s spotlight.”

Ultimately, for me, A TABLE IN HEAVEN resonates as a study of one family and its paterfamilias, the charming, implacable Sirio. As the larger-than-life headwaiter turned toast of the New York dining scene confronts his own sons and a changing industry, Director Andrew Rossi and producer Charles Marquardt (both veterans of 2004’s celebrated CONTROL ROOM) never veer into schmaltz, but instead unfold the tale with grace befitting their subject, especially scenes shot in Maccioni’s homeland, in Tuscany. Highly recommended.

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