May 4, 2014 By Shameer KS

What is Eating Our Frames?

Food-Review_0What happens when we watch food on screen? There may not be a unanimous feedback to this question, as eating and watching movies are deeply related to our varying subjective moods. But Maharshi Bhasa, the ancient theatre theorist from India, has said to the effect that food and sex need only be alluded on stage. His reason was that once they are staged, the director is doing injustice to those who have no wherewithal for either.
But the canvas of a film is more elaborate than a theatre. What an allusion does on stage may not have similar effect on the screen, though there are admirable examples of ace filmmakers not showing sex on screen while figuratively suggesting the same. Food can’t be alluded on screen. Or else, it would have been ludicrous (Or at least I think so). But there are films that were equally meaningful for gourmets and the hungry.
Here is a sneak purview of some films that are celebrated as cuisine films (I don’t know if the phrase has been used before); films which foodies enjoyed like their favorite dishes. The list selected for review is based on the films’ word-of-the-mouth fame.  There might be too much salt and pepper (as well as sugar) in these reviews on your favorite flicks. But a discourse, I believe, will not complete before you are part of it after and while reading it.

Soul Kitchen: Soulful, Sonorous.
But get up after you’re full up


Review on Fatih Akin’s Soul Kitchen

Are matters of soul to be kept away from kitchen? Are we stuck in the belief that flames of fire which bake dough will not cook our mind? The phrase ‘soul kitchen’ before the film ever started running poses these questions. But ‘soul’ in Soul Kitchen is not what the word means in the religious register. But, etymologically speaking, soul in the African-American register means feeling as soulful means full of feelings. Zinos Kazantsakis (Adam Bouzoukis) explains the name of the restaurant he runs (as well as that of the film) in the following words: ‘Soul Kitchen. Just like Soul Music.’
Soul Music as we know is an amalgam of rock and Gospel music developed by the Black Musicians in 1960’s as a counter cultural music activism. And we may not go beyond the title itself to get a significance of the title. Fatih Akin, whose latest feature film is Soul Kitchen and a major flick after Edge of Heaven and Head on, is famous for neatly bringing post-modern music into his frames and the film (Watch and read review (…) on his Istanbul: Crossing the Bridge, a brilliant documentary of the Turkish underground music) is yet another tribute to his passion for sounds.
Music creeps into the plot of the film, when, facing all odds (hernia, debt, warning from health department) Soul Kitchen, the restaurant, is rescued by a group of musicians who come there to sing, dance and be merry but, inadvertently, falls in love with the cuisine of nettlesome chef Shayn Weiss (Birol Ünel). Music saves food in the movie. Playing on the quote of William Shakespeare (Music is the food of love), Sheyn self-admiringly describes his food as that for soul. Music and food thus become not only the fundamental elements of the restaurant, but our very soul. Interestingly, when the film cast its shadow in the making of some other films in the genre of cuisine films, namely in the making of Ustad Hotel ( in Kerala, music has become a principle element. (Read review of Kallumakkaya band)
That said, the brilliantly made movie is silent on many counts. As typical of a post-modern art, it relishes its style and form and simply does not allow us to analyze the nuances of its narrative (There are many ludicrous elements in the script, including the auction scene). We need to go by the critiques of eminent philosophers, including Walter Benjamin, to explain what the movie politically is-a baggage of loud orgiastic voices and cunning, deceitful menu cards (There are 40 kind of food in the menu, and every one of them tastes same. I will make 4 kind of food, with same money)-a counter culture which does not question, but rather provides mooring to the consumerist gourmets.

A chef’s spiritual ingredients
A cook makes; a thief takes.
You are not a thief

There is something philosophical about Chef Auguste Gusteau’s advice and we think his book ‘Anyone can Cook’; is less a self-help book detailing the niceties of culinary practices than a spiritual guide imparting the Zen wisdom. Sure, Routateille, Bard Bird’s animation film, being popular for the deployment of beyond-the-par filmmaking skills, may be one of the most spiritual films one has ever watched.
The plotline is deceptively simple: Remy, a rat blessed with a nose (snout) for flavours comes to know, admire and have clairvoyant contact with the deceased Auguste Gusteau (The best food in the world is made in France. The best food in France is made in Paris. And the best food in Paris, some say, is made by chef Gusteau. Gusteau’s spirit guides the rodent to rediscover the faded fortune of his restaurant whose fame fell heartbroken in the same way Gustav died after being severely assaulted by cuisine critic Anton Ego. Alfredo Linguini, who got fathered by Gusteau, comes back to revive the image of the restaurant guided by Remy.
I have given here, much as I was reluctant, some of the plot of the film because the film is more in details than in the plot, which is trait Hollywood theme. The film is an allegory about tradition and individual talent, which is the basis of our understanding of the present vis-à-vis the past. Can we leave the tradition aside and go on in the present we have invented for ourselves? Food is an interesting-therefore the apt-metaphor to be thrown in the reflection: Do we invent a taste of our own or do we imitate the taste of our forefathers?
The film throws hint at that particular ingredient which we must keep away from kitchen: ego. Here the filmmaker brilliantly plays on a pun. Cuisine critic is named Anton Ego, a living symbol of arrogant Parisian intellectual life (which was satirized vividly by Woody Allen in Midnight in Paris). Elated over the avid response to rotateille (the dish- if you are going to name a food you should give it a name that sounds delicious- he has prepared with the instruction of Remy who hides in his toque), Linguini even ousts Remy from kitchen in a fit of anger. But the disgraced Remy comes back, since he is not human to be emotionally carried over, but a rodent with a purpose. Later, realizing (at a moment when he had to placate Ego, the critic, whose pen has once cut through his father’s heart) that keeping Remy out is tantamount to keeping away his conscience-the source of inspiration and art, Linguini explains the secret of his taste to his buddies:
‘This rat, he is the one behind these recipes. He is the cook. He has been hiding under my toque. He has been controlling my action. He is the reason I can cook the food that is exciting everyone. He is the reason E(e)go is outside that door.’
The film ends on another spiritual note, this time from an unexpected corner-Ego’s pen:
But the bitter truth we critics face is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful. No everyone can become a great artist; but a great artist can come from anywhere.’
Rating: *********/9/10
Cast and Crew
Directed by
Brad Bird
Jan Pinkava   (co-director)

Writing credits
Brad Bird   (screenwriter)

Jan Pinkava   (original story) &
Jim Capobianco   (original story) &
Brad Bird   (original story)

Emily Cook   (additional story material)

A Chinese dish and a Zen recipe O
On Ang Lee’s Eat, Drink, Man, Woman

One can’t help, after watching Ang Lee’s Eat, Drink, Man Woman, heading to a nice Chinese restaurant in the town. Someone who cares a lot about her home, her family and children might go home and cook the best dish for them. Someone whose only association with food is savoring might go to kitchen with a pack of mountain tea to have a first cooking experience. The film is cathartic from its beginning (when the famed chef Chu grabs fish from the tank for the weekend family dinner) to end (When Chu admires the soup his second daughter Jia Chien has made).
Ang Lee is an admirable story teller. Those who have watched his The Wedding Banquet, Brokeback Mountain, Lust Caution, Sense and Sensibility can’t deny it. He has narrated the story of EDMW in such a meticulous manner that the film has become sort of palimpsest.  It was the template for George Tilman Jr’s Soul Food made in 1997 and Mario Ripoll’s Tortilla Soup in 2001, two outstanding movies by themselves. A review which gives a hint of Ang Lee’s plot will spoil your experience while watching it. For, the plot, just like the dishes Chu cook, would only be enjoyed by savouring it.
One of the two reasons why Eat, Drink, Man Woman is one of my favorite cuisine films is that it brings to our mind (tongue, I mean) an elaborate display of Chinese cuisine and the almost religious way it is being prepared. Listen to Jian Chien’s following words to her boyfriend to have a feel of the Chinese Cuisine: ‘Carp with garlic sauce, the first dish Uncle Wen taught me. And this is duck-oil sautéed pea sprout; One duck, two dishes. Duck sautéed with garlic. A perfect balance. It’s an ancient philosophy: food balanced with energy, flavor and nature.’
The other reason I relish the film is a close philosophical (Zen) look into the art of cooking. Listen to Uncle Wen’s words to Chen: You rely on your feelings when you cook, not your taste buds. Like that Western deaf composer, called Bee—‘
Beethoven, Chu corrects
-That’s right, Beethoven. Good sound is not in the ear, good taste is not in the mouth… …and good sex… …God knows where.’
And how come the life of a chef who has a Zen-like composure in his life and an astute perception on his art got mired in a life full of perplexities. Ang Lee seeks to answer this question. We realize that there is a link between the loss of taste and appetite in Chu and the lack of rhythm in his family. The very beginning of the film makes it sink in that cooking is a holistic experience, sort of universe where everything is invisibly linked to others and where snapping of ties means a lot. That may be one reason we loathe to eat alone and crave our kith and kin around the table to dine after a solemn prayer. That may be the reason why Ang Lee closes the film with a happy ending like a chef giving us the best dish she has prepared.
Eat Drink Man Woman (1994)
Yin shi nan nu (original title)
Rating: ********/8/10
Directed by : Ang Lee

Writing credits: Ang Lee , James Schamus, Hui-Ling Wang

Main Cast
Sihung Lung  … Chu
Yu-Wen Wang  … Jia-Ning
Chien-lien Wu  … Jia-Chien
Kuei-Mei Yang  … Jia-Jen
Sylvia Chang  … Jin-Rong
Winston Chao  … Li Kai
Chao-jung Chen  … Guo Lun
Chit-Man Chan  … Raymond
Yu Chen  … Rachel
Ya-lei Kuei  … Madame Liang

Produced by : Ted Hope , Kong Hsu, Li-Kong Hsu  …. producer
Original Music by: Mader
Cinematography by Lin Jong
Film Editing by Tim Squyres

Wind also carries taste
Review on Chocolat (2000) by Lasse Hallstorm

Here goes Vianne Rocher’s (Juliette Binoche) bedtime story for her daughter Anouk Rocher (Victorie Thivisole): Your grandfather, George Rocher, was the young apothecary of the town of Aulus-les-Bains. George was honest, prosperous and trusted by his customers. But George was not content. He felt there should be more to life than dispensing liver oil.  In the spring of 1927 the Societe Pharmeceutique formed an expedition to Central America to study the medicinal properties of certain natural compounds. George was the expedition’s most eager volunteer. But his adventure took a turn he did not expect.  One night, he was invited to drink unrefined cacao with a pinch of chilli, the very same drink the ancient Maya used in their sacred ceremonies.
The Maya believed cacao held the power to unlock hidden yearnings and reveal destinies. And, so it was that George first saw Chitza. Now, George had been raised a good Catholic but in his romance with Chitza he was willing to slightly bend the rules of Christian courtship. The tribal elders tried to warn George about her. She was one of the wanderers. Her people moved with the North Wind from village to village dispensing ancient remedies, never settling down. Not a good choice for a bride. George did not heed their warning and for a while, it seemed that he and Chitza might lead a happy life together in France.
Alas, the clever North Wind had other plans. One morning, George awoke to discover that Chitza and the little girl Vianne had gone away. Mother and daughter were fated to wander from village to village dispensing ancient cacao remedies…
So it was that a generation later the north wind carries Vianne and her daughter to a village named tranquility. But name is a liar. It hides under its glittering and smiling facade conventions of cruelty tightly enclosed with a modicum of morality. And morality has a long history of being violently imposed. Rarely has it poured out of values which societies inherit from primordial sources. More often than not, at the receiving end of this violently policed morality are women, who, in the words of Josephine Muscat (Lena Olin) a symbol of victimization of her gender in the village, ‘pretend that they want nothing more in their life than to serve their husband three meals a day and give them children and vacuum under their ass’. So it’s poetic justice that the two wanderers whose chocolate heralds the taste of change in the north wind are women.
Vianne’s chocolate, which rewrote the history of Tranquility’s taste, came to disrupt the tranquility of the village, especially because Vianne was reluctant to consent the orders of Mayor Comte de Reynaud (Alfred Molina), who pulls the string of religion and politics in Tranquility. Her chocolates came to be embroiled in the first Holy War of the village: the Holy war between a holy war between chateau and chocolaterie. Since the taste of chocolate is in tasting it, just like pudding, I don’t give the plot away. To make a long story short, Vianne’s chocolates succeeded in freeing the town from its tranquility. It’s for you to see if Vianne follows the call of north wind or settle in tranquility with the hope of Pirate (River rat) Roux’s (Johnny Depp) comeback.
I think the role of pirate is cut out for Johnny Depp and no pirate on screen has ever captivated us as he has in this film as well as in Pirates of the Caribbean. Joanne Harris’ novel, on which the film is based, is as tasty as this film. And Rachel Portman’s background score to the scene detailing the preparation of Choco for Armande Voizin’s birthday party is my ringtone.
Rating: ********/8/10
Cast and Crew
Directed by Lasse Hallström
Produced by  Harvey Weinstein, Bob Weinstein (Miramax)
Screenplay by Robert Nelson Jacobs
Based on Chocolat by Joanne Harris
Music by Rachel Portman
Juliette Binoche as Vianne Rocher
Johnny Depp as Roux
Judi Dench as Armande Voizin
Alfred Molina as Comte de Reynaud
Leslie Caron as Madame Audel

What is eating cookbooks?

Why does anyone want to be a cook? For the sake of cooking? For others to eat? For doing something instead of doing nothing? Or, to use the philosophy of Bulent Rauf, to take part in an integral part of esoteric training because it is a twofold means of service: service to humanity and service to the food prepared? There are a number of possibilities. But, the pathos which has befallen one of the oldest arts of mankind is that one cooks to pamper one’s ego, to get oneself published, to rake in as many dollars as one can. Recipes are being written not to reassemble in innovative manners ingredients to refine our taste. In a culture where even a smiling means only if it has bearing on the process of buying and selling, cooking is for cook books? How else will you justify 524 recipes to be cooked in 364 days as shown in Nora Ephron’s highly rated film Julie and Julia based on three best-selling cookbooks: Julie & Julia by Julie Powell, My Life in France, famed chef Julia Child’s autography written with Alex Prud’homme and Julia’s own cookery classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
We can see the whole world of French cooking narrated in Ratatouille, where the spirit of a deceased cook inspires a rat to keep the rich tradition of taste going, inverted in the film where everything French is crass commercialism. I am not saying that Ratatoullie is about the spirituality of French cooking while Julie and Julia is about money-making. One can see as much crassness in the former as one does the warmth in the latter. But beyond being a watchable happy-ending rom cam, Julie and Julia fails to inspire unlike Julia child. See the reason why Julie Powell (Amy Adams) decides to become a cook: to escape the drudgery of a call centre, where her value is tied to the number of phone calls she answered. Julia Child decides to learn cooking to increase the moments of her happiness. But both of them fail to catapult their art beyond the limit which money draws around them: Julia Child is won over by the offer by Alfred Knopf to publish her book, while Julia Powell wants to increase the number of comments to her blog on cooking and the consequent attention paid by newspapers.
None can gainsay the role of cuisine in today’s culture which is more tourism-centered than ever before, considering that the forgotten art of finding the real ingredients for taste and of creating it is doing a great job for invisible societies (invisible in our growth map) to deploy hot adjective noun combinations like ‘native cuisine’, ‘traditional meal’, ‘local food’ and ‘tribal delicacies’.
I enjoyed cuisine films and liked them, whenever they touched on the aspect of feeling a cook must have for others’ stomach. This feeling comes out of our concern for hunger. Ancient Theatre Guru Bassa had this concern for hunger, when he said food and sex should not be shown on the stage. Even in Ratatoullie hunger is part of the melodramatic interlude to a gourmet main narrative.
Directed by Nora Ephron  

Writing credits (WGA)
Nora Ephron   (screenplay)
Julie Powell   (book “Julie & Julia”)

Julia Child   Mastering the Art of French Cooking

Alex Prud’homme   (book “My Life in France”)

Cast (in credits order)
Meryl Streep  … Julia Child
Amy Adams  … Julie Powell
Stanley Tucci  … Paul Child
Chris Messina  … Eric Powell
Linda Emond  … Simone Beck

Posted in: Movies