Culinary Artistry Defines Otherwise Standard ‘Kings of Pastry’

“Kings of Pastry” is far from the year’s best movie, but it is certainly is the most delicious film of 2010. Directed by D.A. Pennebaker, the legendary documentary filmmaker responsible for such fly-on-the-wall verite classics as “Don’t Look Back” and “Salesman,” the film follows Jacquy Pfeiffer, founder of the French Pastry School in Chicago, as he travels to his native country to compete for the title of Meilleur Ouvrier de France – France’s best pastry chef – in a taxing three-day contest alongside other aspiring bakers.

Opening Friday at Coral Gables Art Cinema and expanding to the Lake Worth Playhouse on Dec. 24, “Kings of Pastry” is, in many ways, a standard-issue competition film, its structural ambition hardly a notch above TV shows like “Project Runway,” “America’s Next Top Model” and, of course, “Iron Chef.” We see Pfeiffer preparing, worrying, spending time with his family, worrying some more, preparing some more and finally competing in the contest, climaxing in some surprising results right out of the underdog sports-film playbook.

What separates this delectable feature – the only thing, really – is the artistry: The colorful confectionary creations are right out of “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” The movie is such an eye-opening study in culinary aesthetics that you tend to forget that the delicate flowers, animals and abstract sculptures patented by the chefs are actually edible. Most of them could pass for blown-glass centerpieces at the Las Olas Art Fair … except for the fact that many of them might crumble into pieces if you simply stare at them cross-eyed.

The film finds its emotional center when one baker’s precarious sugar sculpture takes a tumble, sending himself and many of his personal icons in the competition into tears. “Kings of Pastry” is the kind of film that inspires you to compete, and those who already have the competitive itch will relate to the sadness in these scenes – despite what is otherwise a breezy, almost inconsequential affair.

If you can make it down to Coral Gables Art Cinema for the movie this weekend, you’ll be offered a special treat. At 3 p.m. Saturday, the cinema will screen Pennebaker’s rarely seen 1972 film “One A.M.,” a film originally codirected by French New Wave auteur Jean-Luc Godard and set amid the political upheaval of late ’60s Chicago. For information, call the theater at 786/385-9689.