Film News

French docu uses emotion to argue for organic food

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - In the opening of “Food Beware,” a group of French schoolchildren are eating delicious-looking sausages with black beans and green beans. They’re holding bananas and playing with them in the classic banana phone game. They’re actually eating their vegetables. You’re thinking this is a naturally occurring example of the “slow food” movement Americans have been trying so hard to emulate. Actually, it’s the “before” picture.

Pausing before a mouthful of green beans, the movie makes an ominous musical flourish and reveals that these innocent-looking (if limp) vegetables are canned and filled with pesticides, lead, nitrates and phthalates. The presence of these ingredients in the children’s food has prompted the mayor of Barjac, a small town in an area of Southern France filled with farmers and dotted by graceful mountains, to make the school’s lunch menu all organic.

“Food Beware,” which First Run Features released Friday in New York, follows the children as they grow a garden, eat the organic food and learn about the importance of consuming food without chemicals. We also witness town hall and mealtime meetings where the townspeople, cooks and farmers gather to discuss this new project.

Jean-Paul Jaud’s documentary reveals cultural differences, which may intrigue the niche American foodie audience, but it doesn’t necessarily address their concerns. Whereas American food documentaries like “Food, Inc.” and “Super Size Me” focus on health problems like obesity and food poisoning from E. coli, the French documentary constantly warns of cancer, cancer, cancer, to the exclusion of all else. There are no scenes in mass refineries or feedlots, but interviews with local farmers who have suffered health problems through their application of fertilizer.

As the movie’s original French title, “Nos Enfants Nous Accuseront” (literally, “Our Children Will Blame Us”), suggests, the documentary’s method of persuasion is more emotional than rational. Anecdotes and uncontextualized statistics are supposed to scare viewers into action, and scenes of children idyllically picking flowers in fields shamelessly pull heartstrings.

The documentary needs fewer people reciting how many of their fellow citizens they know who have cancer, and more illustrative examples as in an interview with an organic wine farmer. He pulls apart his loamy earth filled with worms and roots, and, by contrast, shows a barren clay hunk from his pesticide-using neighbor. In 30 years, he says, that soil will be dead. It’s just the sort of information you want to wash down with a glass of organic wine.