In the future, when people are no longer able to experience emotions, a glamorous couple visits a fancy restaurant where they are served exactly what they are hungry for in Natasha Kinaru’s The Menu.
This may or may not be the best film of Natasha Kinaru’s short directing career, having not seen any of her previous four films I can’t confirm, but what I can say is it is certainly a very interesting one. It initially left me puzzled because it’s listed as a comedy and, while it does have comedic moments and the entire concept itself is a funny idea, I saw most of its 8-minute run time as a serious take about trust, honesty, and lack of emotion in alleged loving relationships. The Menu is a work of exceptional craft that sticks with you long after the credits roll. So passionate is writer/director Natasha Kinaru in expressing her vision, that at times you would think she’d be disappointed by a viewer who wasn’t at least a little bit confused about what her film is trying to say.
The opening scenes show off an opulent restaurant with lavish cinematography that engulfs our three main characters. We meet a glamorous couple and a helpful waiter; all three dressed impeccably, yet each one of them is emotionally vacant. All three are seemingly trapped behind an impassive brick wall. As our couple takes their seats they are looked after by the waiter; there are no menus or wine lists to order from in this restaurant, you are simply given what the waiter serves up for you and what he serves up for you here are the different sensations, perceptions, and feelings every couple needs to share with each other in order to live happy and healthy lives together. The usual suspects rear their heads, jealousy, anger, love, and compassion with each different course becoming the signal for a brief conversation between the couple focusing on that particular emotion. Some courses lead our couple to impulsively reveal their true selves, while others help them to paper over the cracks. In essence, these conversations could symbolise anything from modern-day relationships to the effect of social media, but what they do highlight is the need for people to speak more freely and be able to express themselves more easily.
The three actors all give strong performances with the couple James Tratas and Carlotta Morelli being both suitably vacuous and self-absorbed, while Jack McCallum as the waiter grows increasingly and appropriately smug. Thanks to Kinaru’s tight direction, the individual emotions are kept very much separate and are easy for the audience to differentiate. As a filmmaker, Kinaru can effectively use stylization on screen and knows the difference between restraint and flamboyance. The short’s main aim (I believe) is to get viewers and couples to talk about it for a long time after viewing the short and, although it didn’t feel like it affected me in any particular way, it did strike me as a film that suggests not having a reaction to it is a way of having a reaction to something in my own life that related to what The Menu was talking about. Potentially emphasising the shortcomings in my relationships outside of the real world.
The Menu is a serious comedy with a bit of bite that takes a cynical view of society, which is directed by someone who knows exactly what they are doing. With that in mind, I am very excited to see what Natasha Kinaru plans to come up with next and will immediately seek out her back catalogue to find out what else I can learn about life.