Be sure to enjoy a delicious meal, preferably French, before (or after!) sitting down to devour the new documentary JULIA, which is showing at The Clairidge starting November 19th. The slow-motion cooking shots sprinkled throughout the film are as mouth-watering as they are sensual, and they are the perfect appetizer for getting to know Julia Child as a flirtatious, bold, and surprising woman, both in and out of the kitchen. At just 95 minutes, watching JULIA is fast paced without being rushed. It feels like sitting down to a multi-course meal served with intention, allowing you to linger over flavors even as you anticipate the next taste.
JULIA is made for admirers and fans of The French Chef, and audiences will enjoy the quick, smooth, and, at times, breathless pace. Familiar scenes from Julia Child’s television appearances are interspersed with intimate photos from her childhood of privilege, her young adulthood of work, adventure, romance, and the famous love of France and French Food that drove the rest of Julia’s life. Deeply touching are the excerpts from letters written by Julia and Paul Child that detail their honest impressions of each other prior to falling in love.
The film uses little known archival photographs and footage, interviews with close friends and admirers, personal letters, clips from PBS’s The French Chef, and interview audio from Child herself to tell three intertwined love stories: Julia’s love for Paul, France, and Food. Like RBG, directed by the same team of Julie Cohen and Betsy West, JULIA is a satisfying portrait of an ambitious, talented, passionate woman who had the love, admiration, and support of her life partner. It all comes together to create a sweet and savory portrait of Julia Child as an adventurer, ground-breaker, lover, flirt, artist, and star.
Montclair’s own Carla Gutierrez edited JULIA, and she agreed to sit down with Baristanet to share details about her experience with the film and her views on Julia Child.
Baristanet: The slow motion scenes of food being prepared are almost painfully beautiful and sexy. They were filmed in two separate locations, France and NYC, due to the pandemic. How did you integrate the clips? Did they accomplish what you hoped? How so?
Carla Gutierrez: The food production happened after we had a version of the film, so we were changing some of the decisions of what to shoot for the food based on how the film was taking shape. We knew we wanted to open the film with the “chicken sisters” episode of The French Chef, so we wanted a clip of chicken being prepared to capture Julia’s personality. Jumping from the archival footage to the preparation of Julia’s recipes gave her a presence, captured her voice. In the past, video and film couldn’t capture the sense of the food completely, and today we can do that — experience the food as a character.
We also wanted to integrate the food into the storytelling aspect of it. For example, Anne Willan, the renowned French chef who founded La Varenne, talks about Julia’s roast pork, particularly the gravy. Willan describes being in the kitchen with Julia and hearing the gravy bubble and pop. The corresponding food clip, including a bubbling gravy, helps the audience better experience that on the screen, like being in the kitchen with Julia and Anne.
A favorite clip, of a pear tart, was used specifically because of its sexiness…including the whipped cream at the end. We used shots from both France and NYC and we matched them. Susan Spungen, the food stylist for JULIA, insisted that the poached pear tart recipe, instead of a chocolate-based one, would be much more visually sultry and tantalizing. She was so right!
Baristanet: The film comes across as delightfully unsnobbish about food and cooking, like Julia Child was in her life and in her kitchen. How did you ensure the tone stayed that way? Why was that important to you?
Gutierrez: I think that Julia herself determined that. She didn’t like to call herself a “chef,” she thought of herself as a teacher. Like in her program — she wanted to show that anyone could do what she was doing with just the basics. A lot of it comes from hearing Julia say “you can do it” or “don’t be scared.” We wanted to make sure the film showed Julia’s personality and her encouraging manner. I love the episode where she teaches the audience how to cut onions. She never made you feel bad for not knowing how to do it.
Baristanet: Despite Child’s assertiveness in attending Le Cordon Bleu in France, her unabashed support of Planned Parenthood, and her decades-long career as a cookbook writer and television chef, she is shown in the film as utterly devoted to her marriage and even says she believes being a homemaker and caring for a husband is most important in life. The film manages to balance her various beliefs about womanhood as completely integrated and authentic, not as impossible to resolve. Were there clips or aspects of Child’s life you chose to emphasize or lessen to achieve that effect?
Gutierrez: I think that the film contradicts Julia a little bit. She was definitely a feminist even though she resisted being called a feminist. Yes, she took care of her husband and supported him throughout their marriage, but it was not a traditional marriage. Paul was retired when she became a superstar, and the film shows how Paul supported her career after his retirement. And Julia acknowledged how necessary Paul’s support of her career was for success. When she toured the country for her books, Paul would be washing the pots and pans in the bathroom for the cooking demonstrations. He did the same during filming of The French Chef. That’s not a traditional marriage. Julia Child downplayed some things like being the only woman at The Cordon Bleu; that was just her way.
Baristanet: The documentary includes scores of candid photographs and film clips of Julia Child, especially those that were taken by her husband, Paul. One of the most beautiful images is a nude silhouette of Julia. What are some images you were especially happy to include?
Gutierrez: I think my favorites were the photographs that Paul took of Julia. When I first started looking at the material, those were incredibly special because you could feel the love through the camera. The viewpoint of the camera is so loving, so caring. One photograph I love the most is the close-up of Julia’s face when we highlighted the letters they wrote to friends and Paul describes falling in love with Julia. It’s a photo of them both even though Paul is not in the frame. His love comes through the lens.
Baristanet: The letters from Julia and Paul Child from early in their relationship make it clear it was not love at first sight, but they did admire each other. Later, a sonnet Paul Child wrote about his wife was incredibly moving. Why were those deeply personal words important to include? What did they bring to the film that photographs and other media hadn’t?
Gutierrez: So, I love the sonnet scene. And actually, that segment was edited by my associate editor, Grace Mendenhall. It’s something similar to what we did with RBG. You lose the voice of somebody because of death, so we brought back the voice to remind the audience how powerful that love was. If you look at the segment, it’s other people describing Julia’s feelings as Paul got sick and she had to place him in a convalescent home. Bringing in the sonnet reminds the audience of the power of their relationship and the depth of their feelings.
Baristanet: What else contributed to the authenticity and joyfulness of JULIA? What helped you make the film great as an editor?
Gutierrez: The producer, Holly Siegel, was in charge of all the food production and recreated Julia’s kitchen as a set. It’s such a subtle effect, but all the backgrounds, details like the oven, the tools used in the food shots, they are all the same as what Julia Child used. It gives us a sense that the food footage really belongs in the story.
I really appreciated the work of the archival producer, Abby Lieberman. It was so special because she kept gathering archival material as we were editing. I’d show her a rough cut scene, and she’d go and look for archival material to supplement it. For example, Julia just loved the Paris markets — the energy, the people, the food. Thanks to Abby, we ended up using black and white footage for the market instead of color because it felt more alive, authentic, vivid. The constant collaboration, the back-and-forth we had, made sure Abby always brought me lots of goodies to add to the film.
Of course the leadership and guidance of Betsy West and Julie Cohen always makes sure that I have space to take their vision and explore it. The collaboration and their knowledge of each team members’ skills and strengths, together with giving us space within their vision, is how magic happens.