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Originally published Thursday, October 11, 2012 at 10:06 PM

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'Step Up to the Plate': a stirring look at father-son chefs

A movie review of "Step Up to the Plate, a documentary that follows the renowned chef Michel Bras and his son Sébastien, now leader of his father's restaurant — committed, heart-driven artists best appreciated in relation to each other.

The New York Times

Movie review

'Step Up to the Plate,' a documentary directed by Paul Lacoste. 90 minutes. Not rated. In French, with English subtitles. Varsity.

The New York Times does not provide star ratings with reviews.

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If "Step Up to the Plate" were fiction, its players would deserve an award for best ensemble performance. But as this calmly intelligent film from Paul Lacoste is a documentary, the focal figures — the renowned chef Michel Bras and his son Sébastien, now leader of his father's restaurant — should win acclaim as committed, heart-driven artists best appreciated in relation to each other.

There's nothing gushy about Michel, and his advanced perfectionism might appear blunt. Here his vision is strong, but so are his self-assurance and his warm, subtle and absolute love for his work and his son. Sébastien — Séba to his father — could likewise come off as a self-questioning striver for whom no answer satisfies, but the documentary projects him as an affable man on a devout, personal mission.

"Step Up to the Plate" (the more appropriate French title is "Entre les Bras") ties its star chefs indelibly to their multigenerational family and their modest rural community in southern France. (The scenes of Bras père et fils participating in a local wine festival are worthy of the best cinematic loops of Francophilia.)

Both men, contextualized by heritage and father-son dynamics, are most alike in the intense precision with which they approach their craft. Foodies will marvel at the studied care given every choice of herb, every flick of a wrist, every design of a plate.

The narrative — sometimes tense, more often meditative and always engaging — relates Sébastien's growing independence from Michel's oversight. But what resonates here are two men, two good men, whose lives have a paradoxically simple and complex bond beyond their profession.

"Step Up to the Plate" asserts how family, in multifarious ways, can be the most deeply affecting of ensembles.

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