Recording a three-day competition in Lyon, France, in which sugar is molded into rococo shapes, Kings of Pastry has none of the shame-and-humiliation rituals of reality-TV cook-offs like Top Chef. Though Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker's food-fetishizing documentary offers a welcome break from the sensibilities of Bravo, it too squanders opportunities to go beyond easily digested human-interest drama. The husband-and-wife doc team follows three of 16 finalists vying to become a Meilleur Ouvrier de France (Best Craftsman of France); first-time competitor Philippe Rigollot speaks of his work as the pastry chef at the only three-star Michelin restaurant headed by a woman. This gender imbalance in high-end cuisine becomes even more glaring when you notice that all 16 finalists are men (and white). But tootling along the French countryside to the excruciatingly jaunty Django Reinhardt score, Kings of Pastry continues its meringue-light focus. Sometimes viewers get a privileged look at the art of composing a cream puff—but most of the culinary footage is devoted to documenting the finalists' "sugar showpiece," in which sucrose is manipulated for its chemical properties, and dessert becomes tacky sculpture. One man wins, one reconsiders how much more time he's willing to spend in his custom-built kitchen, one ends up getting married—and Hegedus and Pennebaker shift the focus entirely, in the film's most cavity-inducing moment, from macaroons to the macarena.
Runs at Northwest Film Forum, Fri., Nov. 26–Thurs., Dec. 2. Not rated. 87 minutes.