Now, Forager: A Film About Love & Fungi (Slow Criticism)

Mushrooms and Black Holes

Dominik Kamalzadeh checked in from Vienna to see the world premiere of the American feature Now, Forager: A Film About Love & Fungi. Jason Cortlund’s and Julia Halperin’s feature focuses on a married couple making their living by gathering mushrooms in the woods and selling those to local restaurants and food suppliers.

I take it as a good sign that writing about a film being streamed on a website is still a rather tricky task. It seems like a blissful promise — we don’t have to travel anymore and instead just follow a link. Then, however, we encounter strange digital black holes (which swallow up codes) or even worse, during watching, we suddenly lose track and get caught in a loop that brings us back to the beginning (without the possibility to jump forward again).

Now, Forager is not a revision of Irvin Rapper’s melodrama with Bette Davis and Paul Heinreid from 1942, but it does borrow the same line of Walt Whitman’s poem (‘Now, Voyager, sail thou forth, to seek and find’) to contextualize it in the world of gourmets. A film about Love & Fungi, goes the subtitle of Jason Cortlund’s and Julia Halperin’s feature, which centers on a married couple making their living by gathering for mushrooms in the woods and selling those to local restaurants and food suppliers.

The film is a worthwhile subject when writing about distances and availabilities, since food culture has always been a matter of internationalisation. Lucien (played by Cortlund himself) and Regina (Tiffany Esteb), the two protagonists of Basque origin, hold their European heritage high, belonging to a group of food lovers who go back to the essentials — they favor simple recipes like the ones their grandparents created, and savor fresh, local and organic ingredients. Their philosophy is a rather conservative (although healthy) one, a sort of slow-food-stance turning away from industrial food and the ravages of globalization — ironically this is a phenomenon one finds in many western countries. The film though is structured around a crisis of the couple: Their precarious financial status leads them to oppositional answers how to go on with their lives.

Lucien, being the more stubborn one in this match, leaves on a forager’s journey to an area around Washington DC, only to get robbed in the woods by two straying Russians — it’s one of the rather odd jokes of Cortlund and Halperin, who tend to satirize the minor parts of their films in order to make them representational for a certain lack of culture. Lucien’s frustrating experience as a short-term catering-chef for a politician’s wife gives the film the chance to mock the ignorance of snobby upper-class-taste. An analogous sequence shows Regina becoming a chef in a provincial restaurant in Rhode Island, where she suffers similarly as nobody appreciates her rewriting of the old-school-menu.

Interestingly enough Now, Forager doesn’t advocate any simple reconciliation. Although taking side for the lonesome Julien, who is not willing to fit into society, the slowly paced film doesn’t idolize him. Like its Mushroom-hunting protagonist Cortlund and Halperin try to stick to a certain local tradition of storytelling, a lyrical form of American filmmaking, that stays connected to its cultural habitat.

Dominik Kamalzadeh