August 1, 2021

“I wanted the film to be cathartic”: Anthony Bourdain’s documentary wins applause and opens controversy

The title alludes to his nickname of globetrotter, of a tireless figure that peered into the corners of the globe to test it and comment on everything from his curious and scathing gaze. The background of the story, however, would be aimed at capturing the enormous void that his death generated in June 2018. “I wanted to honor the crater that he left behind,” director Morgan Neville defined Rolling Stone.

Roadrunner: A film about Anthony Bourdain It would be effective in giving an idea about the extended mourning among his friends and followers for his departure, according to the favorable critics that the film has obtained in the North American press, which emphasize that the documentary “does the job, giving a hard and infuriating tribute to the ineffable genius of Bourdain and the tragic inclinations that came from him ”, describes IndieWire.

Anthony Bourdain stars in Morgan Neville’s documentary, ROADRUNNER, a Focus Features release. Credit Courtesy of CNN / Focus Features

Originating in 2019, a year after his death by suicide in France, the project brings together the inner circle of the chef, writer and host, while showing its rise from the publication of Confessions of a chef (2000) and his subsequent leap to travel the world as an anchor man of spaces such as A cook’s tour, No reservations Y Parts unknown.

The same network behind this last program, CNN, is the one that promoted the documentary and the one that signed Neville as director, a filmmaker who has dispatched films about Johnny Cash, Keith Richards, Orson Wells and Fred Rogers, in addition to winning the Oscar for 20 Feet from stardom (2013), and that he had something that seemed to them an advantage: although he admired him, he never met the protagonist of the film in person.

“I wanted the film to be cathartic, in a way. That he didn’t have kind answers, but rather that he helped people to process their feelings ”, stated the director about his perspective. “Because what I saw, sitting and talking to so many people that was part of his life, is that it is fucking difficult to process the loss of someone like that.”

The production’s widespread good reception has not inhibited criticism, particularly after Neville’s revelation to The New Yorker in an interview. Consulted for a moment of the film in which the artist David Choe is reading an email sent by the New York chef and who in the middle changes his voice and adopts that of Bourdain, he detailed a trick that the film does not specify: how he needed three quotes from Since they did not exist (despite the fact that he extracts testimonies from programs, podcasts and audiobooks), the director opted to contact a software company, to which he provided a dozen hours of recordings. The result is that, with the help of technology, the film has the host recounting something that he never said but did write.

“If you watch the movie, apart from that quote you mentioned, you probably don’t know which are the others that were spoken through artificial intelligence, and you won’t know,” the filmmaker told the American media. And then he launched a line that irritated even more: “We can have a documentary ethics panel on that later.”

The darts towards his figure multiplied when Ottavia Busia-Bourdain, his widow and mother of his only daughter, refuted that this maneuver had had her approval, after the director told GQ magazine that he had received her support and its literary executor. The ethical dilemma has been installed as much for those who admired Bourdain as for the documentary makers and the general public.

Somewhat more tenuous, but also present, are the questions that point to why Neville avoided interviewing Asia Argento, the chef’s last girlfriend before he died. With her, he even went to record an episode in Hong Kong in the months before his death. Through the opinion of third parties, the portrait that the film ends up making of the Italian actress is unkind and, in the long run, is the reason given by the director for having excluded her from the story.

“I realized that it would be a lot of her and them (those close to Bourdain) saying, ‘This happened,’ ‘No, that happened.’ That is not the film I wanted to make. Someone else can make a movie about his last relationship, the last year of his life, ”explained the filmmaker.

With criticism in tow, the film swelled its box office numbers on its North American opening weekend: $ 1.9 million grossed in 927 theaters, the best documentary or independent feature debut of all this year. Both CNN and HBO Max, co-producers of the feature film, will show it in the United States at a time to be defined, although its launch in Latin America has not been announced for now.