Contests of culinary talent bring to mind reality-TV flash such as Top Chef---entertaining, quick-moving and lacking a certain gravitas. But the Meilleurs Ouvriers de France ("kings of pastry") competition is serious business. Every four years, hopefuls congregate in Lyon for three days, to anxiously whip up their best meringues, cream puffs and nougats and score a MOF collar---for those in the food industry, the equivalent of an Olympic medal and Oscar wrapped into one.
Best known for crafting current-events docs such as The War Room (1993), directors Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker certainly ferret out the story's political stratagems and military precision: We see the participants plot, scrutinize timepieces, wield heavy artillery (like blowtorches) and mutter with a brittle camaraderie. But despite the colorful, epic dessert sculptures on display, the film isn't much to look at. In fact, the few stylistic touches there are, like an overly jaunty fiddle soundtrack, trigger more of a stress headache than sugar cravings. Common wisdom suggests bakers are sour because they reserve the sweetness for their work. But these competitors' kindness in the face of adversity---at one point, a well-established chef breaks down in tears while his colleagues comfort him---is what sticks with you the most.---Lisa Rosman
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