I'm in the habit of describing many of my favorite films as "Asian movies with long scenes of the characters cooking and/or eating"—filmmakers like Hou Hsiao-hsien, Jia Zhang-ke, Tsai Ming-liang et al are linked as part of the festival-feted East Asian long-take style, but their link, and appeal, goes deeper than virtuosity or critically approved pacing. Cooking and eating—invariably the subject, in their films, of a long, mostly wordless, master-take scene—is perhaps the last activity you'd describe as "cinematic", but of course it's a necessary, pleasurable part of human experience. These scenes, then—with the play of light in the frame, and the camera rocking like a houseboat—assert that cinema isn't about defusing a dirty suitcase bomb hidden at the top of the Eiffel Tower, but about people, spending time, in space. If this doesn't sound lovely, and necessarily in line with cinema's origins as a photographic medium, it's because the American media-industrial complex and its economy of the spectacle has conditioned you to think otherwise.
This premise seems to inform Denis, too, even when her narratives are very accessible—35 Rhums is an easily followed story of a father, a daughter, and the two close neighbors with whom they seem to be falling out of and into love with. But in the film's best, already famous scene, the main characters duck into a nearly deserted diner during a rainstorm, and dance to the Commodores' "Nightshift".
And it's not really a spoiler, I don't think, to reveal that 35 Rhums ends on a rice cooker.
In 35 Rhums, the father, played by Alex Descas, is employed as a driver of commuter trains in Paris. Both the Denis and Hou films linger on the trains as they pass by, as did Ozu, in his transitional "pillow shots"; in all cases, whether in Denis and Godard's velvety nocturnes or Hou's quiet, sublimated intersections, trains engender a transitional, contemplative state—in the reticent characters, and in the audience, whose job it becomes to reflect on the thoughts in the characters' heads, and in our own, as the images float past.
You may be asking why, exactly, you're supposed to go see a movie to watch people eat rice and ride trains, two things that are already pretty everyday integral parts of your life here in New York. The answer, I suppose, is that the things—the activities, states of mind, relationships and the ways they play out—that are really truly pretty integral parts of your life are rarely rendered in the movies with such gorgeous clarity.
Grateful thanks to The L's Michael Joshua Rowin for his observations.