Fantasia 2023 Review: THE TASTER, Harbinger of a Bold New Voice

Contributing Writer; Toronto, Canada (@triflic)
Fantasia 2023 Review: THE TASTER, Harbinger of a Bold New Voice
Some time in the near future, the climate crisis, and the resulting extreme water and food shortages, have put Europe into a state of war. What little healthy land that remains lies along Danube Delta in Romania which is hotly contested, and militarised. An occupying warlord’s faction have dug in, and the upper brass are suspicious of the occupied citizens, particularly those who do the meal prepartion for the officers. Young Ozana is brought in to taste all the food, a canary in the coal mine, before it is served to the leadership team. 
First seen being harassed by the common soldiers on her walk through the mud on the way into the high security installation, you can feel the fire hiding just behind the Ozana’s eyes in the face of her powerlessness. It is a command performance from Romanian actress Silvana Mihai (who, quite deservingly, won a Best Actress jury prize at Fantasia 2023). The main of the film is a tersely oriention and outfitting session by a prim but haughty executive assistant (Andreea Sovan).
Do not make eye contact. Chew each bite 25 times. Everything from hair to clothing and shoes must be perfectly in place. Ozana herself must always be a non-entity, an other, well beneath her occupiers. The previous taster died a day prior, so the kitchen staff is being even further scrutinised than normal on her first day.  When she makes accidental (or not) eye contact with the top ranking officer, played with understated menace by German veteran stalwart Godehard Giese (Transit, A Cure For Wellness) a private audience becomes a electrically charged set piece unto itself. 
Shot on 35mm film in peeling white-washed liminal spaces, bustling military courtyards, and an ultra-modern kitchen worthy of The Menu, the framing and minute body language captured here confidently articulate the difference between the haves and will-never-haves in this apocalyptic future. This is understated with most of the suspense and action happening internally though the subtle power struggles of each scene.
The Taster was inspired by the fifteen or more young women hired to eat small portions Adolf Hitler’s meals near the end of the Second World War, given the Führer’s increasing paranoia that the British were attempting to poison him. These women were given the best food on hand at a low point in the war while the locals starved. These young girls could never savour the unusual privilege of their situation in a time of extreme scarcity, precisely because of their situation. Reframing this moment in history through a modern science fiction wartime lens comes ripe with possibility. The scenario is exceptionally realised here, that it leaves you wanting more.
Large in scope, and terrifyingly intimate in execution, Sophia Bierend's 30 minute film makes the best case for itself to be expanded to feature length. The Taster is brimming with world building, and tactile in production value. It is almost shocking to believe that this is her Master's graduate film out of Film University Babelsberg Konrad Wolf and heralds the several bold new talents: Bierend and Mihai, I hope we see a lot more of them - sooner rather than later.
The Taster was the clear stand out in an already exceedingly strong line-up of films in this years Fantasia’s Born Of Women short film programme.
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Andreea Sovan
FantasiaGermanyGodehard GieseShort FilmSilvana MihaiSophia Bierend
The TasterWar

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