Another cinematic list, about another favourite topic – food. Eating is a universal activity, and yet it doesn’t get portrayed very well or often in movies. Here are some of my favourites, for times when you want to eat vicariously or need culinary inspiration.
Babette’s Feast (1987, Gabriel Axel). Starring Stéphan Audran, Birgitte Federspiel, Bodil Kjer. I was initial drawn to this film because, like one of my favourite films of all time (Out of Africa (1985, Sydney Pollack), it is based on a story by Isak Dinesen/Karen Blixen. Here, a collection of Puritanical villagers is treated to a feast of a lifetime by a refugee in their midst. Watching the delicious feast break down the normal austerity and reserve of the villagers, while knowing the sacrifice of Babette for their sensuous release, is both mouthwatering, heartbreaking and uplifting.
The Big Chill (1983, Lawrence Kasdan). Starring everybody. This is another all-time favourite film, included here for the several scenes involving cooking and eating, especially the turkey dinner meal (the apple pie conversation) and the grocery shopping. The kitchen time and meals provide the environment for the divisive and unifying conversations throughout the film. Even when visiting a remote cabin, the characters talk about going to a restaurant.
Big Night (1996, Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci). Starring the directors and a host of familiar actors. Watching the the flawed nobility and beautiful dreams of the brothers (Primo and Secondo) is heartbreaking. Secondo’s magic in the kitchen cannot be given full flight by Primo’s failed attempts to run the restaurant, and on the brink of closure they host a feast to end all feasts. And what a Big Night it is, culminating in the miraculous timpano before crashing like broken plates on the floor.
Chocolat (2000, Lasse Halleström). Starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp. Similar to Babette’s Feast above, the mystical powers of chocolate confront the ancient religious tenets of austerity and abstemiousness, and the confection becomes the release for the inhibited and unhappy townsfolk, and a unifying force for estranged families and communities.
Crossing Delancey (1988, Joan Micklin Silver). Starring Amy Irving, Peter Riegert. Another lovely love story, there are only a few eating scenes in this film, but the one where Isabel and Bubbie are hosting the matchmaker for lunch is hilarious. I have no doubt that that woman could have eaten that entire spread.
Eat, Drink, Man, Woman (1994, Ang Lee). Starring Sihung Lung, Yu-wen Wang, Chien-lien Wu, and Kuei-mei Yang. Although primarily a story about the three girls in the family, the central character is really the father, the eminent chef who has lost his sense of taste but still prepares a weekly feast at which attendance is mandatory and seen as “torture” by the girls. Watching the assembly of the meals is mesmerizing, the brutal and delicate cooking that results in more beautiful food than 4 people could possibly eat in a single meal.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011, David Gelb). The only documentary on this list, the film chronicles Jiro Ono, a master sushi chef, and his family. Set primarily in his tiny restaurant, the assembly of sushi and the importance of rice is central suggest that the achievement of perfection is ultimately impossible, but its pursuit gives meaning to life.
Julie and Julia (2009, Nora Ephron). Starring Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, and Stanley Tucci. I preferred the Julia Child parts of this movie, but the food and cooking depicted is mouth-watering (starting with Julie’s bruschetta at the beginning and continuing through to the end). Meryl Streep is (as one would expected) absolutely transformed into Child, and her experience learning to chop onions is a hilarious moment. Most of the cooking happens in the less-enjoyable modern sections, but it is no less magnificent.
The Lunchbox (2013, Ritesh Batra). Starring Irrfan Khan and Nimrat Kaur. This lovely story (which will also fit in a list of epistolary films – for a future post) starts with a mistaken delivery (a rare occurrence in such a well-known service) that leads to joy and love in food. The way to a man’s heart may be via his stomach, but these delicious looking lunches worked for me, too.
Mostly Martha (2001, Sandra Nettelbeck). Starring Martina Gedeck and Sergio Castellitto. Another kitchen based romance, the fast-paced kitchen is the scene of the struggle for a renowned chef to find balance between career, family and love. The Italian picnic in the apartment – how could one not be wooed?