As Cool As A Fruitstand

…and maybe as strange. A movie blog.

Weekend Double Feature: Food & Sex

Posted by Hedwig on May 12, 2008

I’m one of those people who doesn’t eat to live, and who lives to eat. Food really engages all the senses: how it tastes most obviously, of course, but how it smells is almost as important, how it looks, how the texture feels. Even sound comes into it: the sizzling of butter in a pan, the bubbles popping in a pot of something simmering slowly. Food can be something very luscious, and very sensual. Something closely related to desire, to sex. And there have been plenty of movies that exploit this.

Somehow, many of them have a Latin setting. Is it because people enjoy food more in Latin settings, because they pay more attention to it, or just because they seem to have more of a sensual outlook on life in general? I don’t know, but the weather’s been gorgeous for a week now already, and latin food movies are what I crave.

At an open air screening that was part of the Latin American Film Festival in Utrecht, I saw the Cuban movie Como Agua Para Chocolate/Like Water for Chocolate from 1992, a movie in which the main character, Tita, cooks and uses food as a way of expressing sublimated desires. It’s a magical realist story: Tita is born in a wave of tears because she’s so sensitive to onions, and when the man she loves looks at her, her “virgin breasts” start lactating immediately.

It’s a movie of grand, unexplained emotions, of people who wait an entire lifetime. It takes place in a world with cruel mothers who keep bugging you even after they die, where you can run away naked and end up a general, and where love can literally kill you.

It’s a pity the movie’s so uneven, with a plot that meanders wildly and relies on one particularly hard to understand decision, and it’s too bad the food theme isn’t as consistent as it could have been… but who am I kidding. I had a great time with this movie, even if I was sharing a hard chair (with armrests!) while watching it. It’s not a perfect movie, but it’s a very nice meal.

A somewhat more twisted food experience comes from the Brazilian movie Estômago (seen at the IFFR), which to my total bafflement can’t find a distributor in the US. Bafflement, because it’s a real crowd-pleaser, and incredibly well made: the shots of food are great, and the movie skillfully interweaves two time-lines, with many parallels and an equally satisfying ending. It’s so assured it’s hard to believe this is only Marcos Jorge’s 2nd movie, and I’m eager to check out the first.

The movie revolves around Nonato, a none-too-bright cook who opens the film with a speech about Gorgonzola. In one of the two stories, he arrives in a city and works his way up from snack bar to restaurant due to his cooking skills, which he also uses to woo the woman of his dreams, the prostitute Íria, whose desire for food is equally obsessive as his love for her. In parallel, we see Nonato in prison, where thanks to his cooking skills he gradually makes his way up in the strict hierarchy.

Whereas in Como Agua Para Chocolate cooking is a way of channeling forbidden urges, in Estômago, it’s no more or less than power, equivalent to money or sex, and exchangeable for either. Nonato learns how to wield this power, and doesn’t hold back. It’s fascinating to watch, and often very funny – trying too fancy stuff can be dangerous in prison, as he finds out. It’s a dangerous power too, but to expound on that would be to spoil the surprise of the dual endings of the film.

Estômago also reveals that associated with food aren’t just fluffy, warm feelings. It’s a much nastier film that Chocolate, and maybe because of that, I like it more. In its tone, it’s a little reminiscent of the opening sequence of Dexter, a Showtime series I’ve started watching recently. It shows the violence inherent in everyday activities, from shaving to flossing to tying your shoelaces. And also, most importantly, the violence in cooking: all those things getting cut, burned, chewed.

Maybe the ending of Estômago won’t leave you feeling as hungry as Como Agua Para Chocolate. But the movie does stir various appetites, and I would heartily recommend both movies to anyone who liked to eat.

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2 Responses to “Weekend Double Feature: Food & Sex”

  1. Daniel said

    I find your first two paragraphs here quite poetic. Great recommendations, and a great lineup at the LAFF.

  2. Merijn said

    Lactating virgin breasts would be quite a turnoff for me on a first date, personally.

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