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film review

Julia Child on the set of her cooking show, The French Chef.Fairchild Archive/Penske Media/Shutterstock

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  • Julia
  • Directed by Julie Cohen and Betsy West
  • Classification PG; 95 minutes
  • Opens at Toronto’s Hot Docs Theatre Nov. 26; Dec. 3 in Vancouver, Montreal and Ottawa

With a plethora of archival material and strong interviews, this documentary argues that the exuberant Julia Child was a protofeminist who invented the profession of TV chef as she introduced the notion that food should taste good to the land of the Jell-O salad.

It follows Child from a Republican girlhood in Pasadena, Calif., into the Second World War, where she finally escaped her conservative family working as a secretary to American spies. (It dismisses in a mere sentence the suggestion that she herself was a spy.) In Ceylon, she met the U.S. diplomat Paul Child, followed him on posting to Paris and the rest is Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Lots of footage from her earliest PBS shows in the 1960s plus luscious recreations of such staples as boeuf bourguignon and pear tart make for irresistible viewing. The doc is, however, uncritical, barely noting cuisine’s new and international directions as the calorific French classics fell from favour in the 1980s.

In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a Critic’s Pick designation across all coverage.