This might be one of the most fascinating documentaries you've ever seen, or it might bore you nearly literally to tears. There is no narration, just one intertitle informing viewers: "Once a year, El Bulli closes its doors for six months. During this interval, Ferran Adrià and his team develop in Barcelona the new dishes for the coming season." Ferran Adrià is one of the world's foremost practitioners of molecular gastronomy or, to use the food-geek-approved term, modernist cuisine. The kitchen in Barcelona is referred to as a lab, and the cooking that happens there is carefully documented trial and error, documented here by the patient camera. Fun, right?
The handsome young Spanish chefs deal, for instance, with a sweet potato, discussing the starch, the juice, the merits of blanching or vacuumizing, and so forth. You see much of their process in real time, the shiny stainless steel countertops and their hands chopping and measuring; the soundtrack is just the tense, low buzz of idling equipment and bright lighting (with a pressure cooker sometimes hissing symbolically in the background). They are collegial, if very serious, until Adrià arrives; then the competition to be the one whose work merits a nod instead of a scowl is fierce. Adrià's absolute seriousness as he puts a spoon to his lips, his white chef's coat taut over his belly, will be, for some, a joy to see—you would never, ever tell him this, but there is almost an element of comedy. "It's simply bad," he says to one of them, raising his eyebrows in disbelief. "Don't give me anything that isn't good."
At the opening of the restaurant (where women finally appear—as servers), Adrià fine-tunes every element of food, presentation, and service (including how to tell the guests to eat the food), and the atmosphere on the first night is one of palpable terror. The restaurant is gorgeous, and its rhythms will be mesmerizing to those who aren't pulling out their hair as the film enters its second hour. Since El Bulli was made in 2008–2009, Adrià has given up on pesky customers altogether; he shut El Bulli down last year to devote himself full-time to culinary experimentation and education. If you wanted to go and didn't get to, this is a close look you'll feel lucky to get.