Review: Julia (2021)

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Julia (2021)

Directed by: Julie Cohen, Betsy West | 95 minutes | documentary

‘Julia’ is a documentary by Julie Cohen and Betsy West, previously responsible for the Oscar-nominated ‘RBG’ (2018) and ‘My Name Is Pauli Murray’ (2021). It’s clear that these filmmakers like to target strong, independent women who have had a significant impact on society. Like the previous two films, ‘Julia’ can easily look away, and this documentary paints a complete and uncluttered picture of the life and work of the pioneering cook, writer and TV personality.

Julia was born in 1912 into a wealthy family. Mom and Dad McWilliams even employed a cook, but that’s not where Julia’s interest in the craft started. Through various jobs, copywriter, typist, research assistant for the OSS, she eventually ended up in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). There she met Paul Cushing Child. It was not exactly love at first sight, according to correspondence and diary fragments, but the couple slowly grew closer. Thanks to Paul, Julia was introduced to French cuisine, which proved to be the missing ingredient in Julia’s life. She was apprenticed to the famous Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris – special at the time, because until then cooking at a high level was reserved for men. She eventually wrote the classic “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” (1961) with Simone ‘Simca’ Beck. This book is still in countless bookcases and is still sold (worldwide).

The debuting writer did something unusual at the time: she went on a book promotion tour. She ended up on a TV program, where she surprised viewers with a demonstration of making omelettes. This first public appearance led to her own cooking show, “The French Chef”, introducing millions of American viewers to French cuisine and how easy it was not to use prepackaged and/or frozen meals – hugely popular at the time. , but prepare this yourself.

Like similar films, the documentary makes extensive use of interviewed relatives, friends and professionals who are inspired by Julia Child. But what really makes ‘Julia’ worthwhile are the (sometimes never seen) unique archive images, often from private collections. Certainly at the beginning, Cohen and West add many fragments in which a cook who remains out of the picture makes beef bourguignon or a delicious pear tart in Julia’s way. The smells and colors splash from the screen, so it is not advisable to watch this film on an empty stomach. In any case, keep something tasty within reach.

The creators make no secret of the fact that they are admirers of the legend who passed away in 2004. There is hardly a cross word, although it is clear that Julia was not an easy aunt and stood her ground in negotiations. Julia remained active into old age and was never afraid to continue developing. ‘Julia’ also pays attention to this: how she initially simply did not want to acknowledge this when good friend and lawyer Bob Johnson turned out to be homosexual. However, her homophobia changed when this lawyer got AIDS: from that moment on, Julia championed the gay community, creating understanding and awareness, and researching AIDS.

‘Julia’ is a fascinating documentary, a nice double-bill with ‘RBG’ or ‘My Name Is Pauli Murray’. Or, if you haven’t had enough of Hollywood and Julia Child after seeing Dan Aykroyd’s clip in “Saturday Night Live,” Nora Ephron’s “Julie & Julia” (2009), in which Julia Child is played by Meryl Streep.

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