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Frederick Wiseman’s ‘Menus-Plaisirs — Les Troisgros’ is a four-hour French feast

His latest film, opening Feb. 9 at the Coolidge, documents three restaurants operated by the Troisgros family, including one that boasts a three-star Michelin rating

When making nonfiction movies in France, Wiseman puts a more direct focus on the arts. And his latest French-made movie, “Menus-Plaisirs — Les Troisgros,” adds culinary arts to the menu.Zipporah Films Inc.

When in America, Frederick Wiseman makes films about everything. His 44 nonfiction features can be divided into cycles that each study distinct subjects, including films about public services (from his legendarily controversial 1967 debut, “Titicut Follies,” to 2020′s Boston-shot “City Hall,” featuring former Mayor Marty Walsh); specific communities (1977′s “Canal Zone,” 2018′s “Monrovia, Indiana”); and educational programs (1968′s “High School,” 2017′s “Ex Libris”). When considered altogether, those cycles overlap and span out so wide that Wiseman’s oeuvre captures the national character of the last 50 years.

When making nonfiction movies in France, Wiseman puts a more direct focus on the arts. And his latest French-made movie, “Menus-Plaisirs — Les Troisgros,” adds culinary arts to the menu.


Frederick Wiseman. Adrien Toubiana/Zipporah Films

Opening Feb. 3 at Amherst Cinema and Feb. 9 at Coolidge Corner Theatre, the four-hour film thoroughly documents three restaurants operated by the Troisgros family, including one that boasts a three-star Michelin rating. Both the feature and the best-known restaurant are led by highly gregarious head chef Michel Troisgros, who’s shown being involved at nearly every stage of any given dish’s creation. Lengthy scenes detail the culinary preparations, cooking, and resulting food service.

“Menus-Plaisirs — Les Troisgros” befits Wiseman’s body of work by slowly revealing an expansive portrait of a family business edited together from small pieces — or rather, small dishes.

Wiseman spoke with the Globe about the film via Zoom, from France, in December.

A still from "Menus-Plaisirs — Les Troisgros."Zipporah Films

Q. Your first visit to the Troisgros restaurant depicted in “Menus-Plaisirs” was at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Did you consider making this film in the midst of COVID?

A. You want to see people’s faces — and the emotion and feeling or whatever that is registered on their faces. So I never considered doing it until COVID had subsided, when I could count on the fact that 90 percent of the staff and the customers wouldn’t be wearing masks.


Q. Do you feel the omission of COVID carries its own meaning in the film?

A. There’s no reference to the German occupation of France during the Second World War, either.

Q. No, but if the film had been produced in 1946, that might be an interesting omission.

A. Maybe or maybe not.

A still from "Menus-Plaisirs — Les Troisgros."Zipporah Films

Q. The film goes beyond the Troisgros restaurants into other places where we see, for example, guided tours of a farm, and a cheese factory.

A. I was trying to locate the restaurant in the context of choices made about food and the people who supplied it. I thought it was interesting [the chefs] were particularly concerned about the farms where they bought fruit and vegetables, and about being able to buy meat from somebody who raised them according to their biological standards. That put them right in the context of many important contemporary issues.

Q. Your choice of titles is always instructive. How did you find “Menus-Plaisirs — Les Troisgros” for this film? And why that phrase as opposed to something like “Restaurant”?

A. I had trouble finding a title. In the past, it was relatively easy: “Welfare,” “Hospital,” “High School.” “Restaurant” covers too many different kinds of restaurants. And it didn’t give any historical or mysterious sense. I settled on “Menus-Plaisirs” because it does have some historical context. In the court of Louis XIV, they would prepare special meals for him in events called Menus-Plaisirs. So that’s where I got that.


Q. Did you leave this project with any new takeaways about photographing food?

A. Well, I never shot much food before. But as in all my films, I’m very concerned about the composition. And the work in the kitchen — whether it was a frying pan on the stove, or water boiling, or crayfish going into boiling water — lent itself to closeup.

A still from "Menus-Plaisirs — Les Troisgros."Zipporah Films

Q. I should ask you about your most recent Massachusetts-shot film, “City Hall.” Are there any individuals or subjects you’ve been keeping up with from that production?

A. I have kept up a little bit with the [then] head of the mayor’s policy planning staff [Joyce Linehan]. And not recently but early on, I did exchange one or two emails with [Walsh], now the secretary of labor.

Q. Are you aware of Walsh’s new job?

A. No, I didn’t know that.

Q. He is now the executive director of the NHL players union.

A. This completely went by me.

Q. So the new job could make it harder for Mr. Walsh to facilitate a Wiseman film of the White House, but maybe now you can shoot an NHL movie.

A. I’m glad you told me.

Q. What are some nuances you keep in mind, as an artist, when you’re dealing with what we might call natural performers like Mr. Walsh or Mr. Troisgros?

A still from "Menus-Plaisirs — Les Troisgros."Zipporah Films

A. You have to keep in mind that they’re natural performers, but you also have to keep in mind that they’d be doing what they’re doing whether or not a movie was being made. Because they’re on.


Michel and [his son] César, they come out of the kitchen and work the dining room every day; they know a lot of the customers; they will move from table to table and have a chat. Marty Walsh sometimes did five or six visits a day to public groups, and sometimes there was press there and sometimes not. But I never had the impression that he was playing to me, and similarly with Michel. The issue always is to try and be aware of situations where you think people are playing to the camera.

Most people can play one role extremely well. Michel plays the role of a famous chef extremely well — but he plays that role every day, whether or not I’m there.

Interview was edited and condensed for clarity.