It’s Foodie Tuesday!
I think we can agree that food is more than mere biological necessity, given the great pleasure we take in its creation as in its consumption. We enjoy food with all of our senses, sight, sound, smell, taste, touch — and with our whole being, body, mind, soul, and spirit. Food is not just food, a meal is not just about eating. Mealtimes cement relationships, and mark celebrations, and are inextricably chained to memories.
And when films are written around and about food, there truly is great magic — even when the film is Supersize Me.
The Toronto International Film Festival is well underway, and as we celebrate the art form that is film, let us take a look at what happens when film and food come together in a genre all its own…
Tampopo – 1985
The central character is a young widow named Tampopo, who is on a journey toward making great ramen. She’s a kind of Dorothy easing on down the yellow brick road to a culinary Emerald City. She is also accompanied by four friends who help and teach her, one of whom is played by a fresh-faced Ken Watanabe.
But equally riveting are a zillion little fascinating gastronomical vignettes woven into the film — some funny, some sweet and touching, some sexy — but all very sensual and poetic.
God of Cookery – 1996
Food meets Kung Fu in this hilarious Stephen Chow classic. Watch soup, meat, and vegetables perform awesome, gravity-defying stunts. Who knew cooking can be so action-packed?
Babette’s Feast – 1987
Based on Karen Blixen’s (writing as Isak Dinesen) novella of the same title. The story takes place in such a cold, stark, gray setting, in a stark, staid, ascetic culture. A strange location for a feast, and the perfect foil for the grandeur and lavishness of French haute cuisine. It makes a startling allegorical statement about generosity, art, joy, the mingling of physical and spiritual hungers and their satisfaction, the breathtakingly beautiful infinite breaking through the stale and finite.
Here are some clips and a short commentary by the New York Times’ A. O. Scott.
Ratatouille – 2007
Another notch in the belt for Pixar. An extremely well-put-together film about how talent and passion overcome obstacles, and that, seriously, “anyone can cook.”
Julie & Julia – 2009
Two of my favorite actresses portraying adorable foodies… Whoa, Momma! It’s actually two separate true stories from 2 different time periods, linked together by Julia Child’s passion for food and life extends beyond her own space and time and permeates another woman’s life. The two women’s stories are woven so seamlessly together so that it feels like one story. It’s such a sweet, charming, wonderfully crafted film.
Une affaire de Goût (A Question of Taste) – 2000
I’ve only seen this movie once, but it stayed with me, primarily because it is incredibly twisted and creepy, and it haunted me for a while. But it is quite a fascinating puzzle that I was compelled to return to and ponder on. It’s about a food taster and his wealthy employer, but underneath all that food tasting is a story of power and possession, driven by some complex web of machinations and manipulations. Very exciting stuff.
Here’s a trailer, I think. Can’t find one with subtitles.
Waitress – 2007
Such a dark and funny film. What amazes me about Keri Russel’s character in this movie is how out of every sad situation and negative emotion, she can make a gorgeous scrumptious pie (e.g.”I Hate My Husband Pie,” “Pregnant, Self-Pitying Loser Pie”). So moral of the story: no matter how your life sucks, you can make something sweet out of it.
Ramen Girl – 2008
This movie reminds me of Tampopo, mainly because of the whole teacher-learner set-up. And because it’s set in Japan. And because of the centrality of ramen. Okay, it’s a lot like Tampopo. But it’s a totally different film. Story may be a tad loose at times but it’s actually a lot of fun to watch. Brittany Murphy’s character may seem like an airhead for so much of the film, but she manages to win you over so that you forgive her for it.
The Big Night – 1996
Long before Stanley Tucci played the pervy serial killer in The Lovely Bones, long before Tony Shalhoub become the nutty OCD sufferer Monk, they played dashing Italian brothers and restaurateurs in The Big Night. It’s an engaging slice-of-life film about passion, food and family, art, perfection, and compromise. It seeks to define success, but in the end leaves it up to the viewer.