A different French connection

Vive La Food! plays Saturday, July 26, at the Sacramento French Film Festival’s Short Film Program, starting at 12:40 p.m. For more information, visit www.sacramentofrenchfilmfestival.org.

Chefs and restaurateurs from all over have migrated to Sacramento of late. But from France? Especially Lyon—the famed capital of gastronomy? What would bring a French chef here … from there?

Vive La Food!—a short (like 13 minutes short) film by local Raphael Hitzke (a native of France) that premiered at this year’s French Film Festival—sets out to answer those questions by talking to Daniel Pont of La Bonne Soupe Café and William Rolle of Café Rolle, two native Frenchmen who’ve opened successful restaurants right here in the land of Wienerschnitzels and Fuddruckers.

The contrast of culinary landscapes—set up by sweeping shots of chain-restaurant suburbia that accompany the credits—fortunately, isn’t harped upon. Instead, the film explores what makes each chef tick in the kitchen, as we bear witness to the fresh, distinct food Pont and Rolle make.

Both chefs served their time in French kitchens, and both dreamed of opening their own place—and you see the dedication to their craft in what the film shows us of the actual food and kitchens: the slight twist of a wrist as Pont lays a slender slice of asparagus on an appetizingly crusty baguette half, or a splattered, weathered enamel terrine. There’s a clear food-television influence at work (angled shots over plates, jumpy cuts) and details like colors, focus and titles could occasionally use a little more polish, but in just 13 minutes, the film draws a portrait of two very different restaurateurs: Rolle, for instance, wanted to be a Formula One driver but flunked his driving test, so learned the family trade of smoking salmon instead; he says to customers, “We are not going to have an attitude with you because we are French.” And the 72-year-old Pont—who moved to Sacramento to be closer to his grandchildren; his customers are so dedicated that one reveals they leave their Capitol office in shifts to eat there. Pont confides, “You become a restaurateur … by wanting to make people happy.” Evidently, plenty of Sacramentans are très contents.