Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Matter of Taste (Une affaire de goût)

Rousset: “His palate was so refined, everything had to be cooked in perfect harmony. Cuisine is an art in itself.”A Matter of Taste (Une affaire de goût) is an ambiguous movie: is it about auto-destructive behavior, manipulation, closeted homosexual passion, the moral corruption of wealth, or all of the above simultaneously? Whichever the reader finds it to be, the movie centers on food—specifically, the dishes that Rivière (Lorit) is hired to taste for Delamont (Giraudeau): pigeon casserole made with garlic, onion, lemon, and verbena tea; hors d’oeuvres with rabbit and black olive paste; five-flavor pork; fava bean and Parma salad; tripes à la grande-mère. There are also the foods that Rivière eats as part of his training (lobster, crab, shrimp, oysters, poached turbot with hollandaise sauce, apple tart) or recommends to his employer’s business associates (scampi with grapefruit and seafood). Unexpectedly, the personal taster is promoted to a much higher position—becoming a surrogate? a twin?—as Delamont compels Rivière to “taste” much more than what’s served at the dinner table, with fascinating and dire consequences for both men.

Released 2000
Directed by Bernard Rapp
Written by Bernard Rapp and Gilles Taurand; book Affaires de gout by Philippe Balland
Starring Bernard Giraudeau as Frédéric Delamont, Jean-Pierre Lorit as Nicolas Rivière, Florence Thomassin as Béatrice, Charles Berling as René Rousset, Jean-Pierre Léaud as Le juge d’instruction, Artus de Penguerm as Flavert, Laurent Spielvogel as Doctor Rossignon, and Elisabeth Macocco as Caroline
Awards: 2000 Cognac Festival du Film Policier “Unravel” Award, Critics Award, and Grand Prix; 2000 Karlovy Vary International Film Festival Special Mention

9½ Weeks

Extremely controversial in its time because of the explicitness of the sex scenes, 9½ Weeks depicts a short but intense love affair between two lonely New York City professionals, a successful and assertive Wall Street trader and a recently divorced and emotionally fragile art gallery director. Indeed, the film sets the standard for erotic scenes that include food: John (Rourke) compels Elizabeth (Basinger) to close her eyes and sit on the floor, then with great sensuality he feeds her a variety of delicacies—strawberries, olives, honey, wine, Jello, pasta, milk, eggs, soda, cherry pie filling, even a green chili pepper—as foreplay to their passionate lovemaking.

Released 1986
Directed by Adrian Lyne
Written by Sarah Kernochan, Zalman King, and Patricia Louisianna Knop, based on the novel by Elizabeth McNeill
Starring Kim Basinger as Elizabeth, Mickey Rourke as John, Margaret Whitton as Molly, David Margulies as Harvey, and Christine Baranski as Thea

Fun Facts:
9½ Weeks was released just one year after the Japanese release (though one year before the U.S. release) of Tampopo, a movie that spoofs the use of food in erotic film sequences.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Eat Drink Man Woman (Yin shin an nu)

Chu: Eat, drink, man, woman. Basic human desires. Can't avoid them. All my life, that's all I’ve ever done. It pisses me off. Is that all there is to life?
Old Wen: We should be thankful that we’re still alive and cooking.

Jia-Chien: It’s strange, I don’t have any childhood memories unless I cook them into existence.

A bittersweet film, Eat Drink Man Woman depicts the ageless story of family life, that of children maturing and rebelling against their parents’ way of life. Despite Master Chef Chu’s (Lung) best culinary efforts, he can’t seem to get the attention of his three grown daughters, who are in the process of discovering their individual identities apart from their natal family. Indeed, one daughter complains to her friend about having to get home for the “Sunday dinner torture ritual.” Nevertheless, he continues to infuse all his kitchen creations with fatherly love, and his daughters eventually come to understand how much they mean to him.
Chu’s cooking is, indeed, amazing to an American audience raised on fast food. Here, for example, is the lunch he prepares for his friend’s daughter to take to school: spareribs, crab with vegetables, shrimp with green peas, bean sprouts and sliced chicken, and bitter melon soup—five courses for a five-year-old!
Though Chu can’t believe it, his daughter Jia-Chien (Wu) inherits his talent for cooking. Here’s what she prepares for her boyfriend: carp with garlic sauce, duck-oil sautéed pea sprouts, squid rings, duck sautéed with garlic, and tofu dumplings. Her recipe for Tsu-An Tofu is as follows: “tofu blended in with chicken, steamed in the pot until it looks like a beehive, which is then cut into pieces and stewed with ham in an old hen broth.” The cooking truly follows the ancient Chinese philosophy: every meal must include a balance of energies, flavors, and types of foods—sweet and sour, mild and spicy, hot and cool, crunchy and smooth, vegetable and fish, grain and meat, and so forth.
The ingredients for this film were so successful that director Ang Lee repeated the basic plot in Tortilla Soup—with an entirely different cuisine, of course.
Fun Facts: The movie’s opening sequence shows the preparation of an amazing host of dishes for the family’s Sunday dinner: fried carp with chiles, water chestnuts, and bamboo shoots; ribs; chicken; frog legs; crab dumplings; Peking duck; hot pot; and more. The dinner is so involved that filming the preparation and cooking of this meal alone took more than a full week.
Released 1994
Directed by Ang Lee
Written by Ang Lee, James Schamus, Hui-Ling Wang

Starring Sihung Lung as Chu, Yu-Wen Wang as Jia-Ning, Chien-lien Wu as Jia-Chien, Kuei-Mei Yang as Jia-Jen, Sylvia Chang as Jin-Rong, Winston Chao as Li Kai, Chao-jung Chen as Guo Lun, Lester Chit-Man Chan as Raymond, Yu Chen as Rachel, Ah Lei Gua as Madame Liang, Chi-Der Hong as Class Leader, Gin-Ming Hsu as Coach Chai, Huel-Yi Lin as Sister Chang, Shih-Jay Lin as Chief’s Son, and Chin-Cheng Lu as Ming-Dao

Awards: 1994 Asia-Pacific Film Festival Awards for Best Editing and Best Film; 1995 Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award for Best Foreign Film; 1994 National Board of Review Award for Best Foreign Language Film

Tea with Mussolini

Lady Hester: Look at that ridiculous American monstrosity they’ve given the child. What do they call them? Knickerbocker Glories. Oh! It’s amazing. They can even vulgarize ice cream.

Based loosely on the childhood of director Franco Zeffirelli, Tea with Mussolini traces the lives of a group of elderly Englishwomen who have made Florence their home. When the Fascists comes to power, the group’s ranking matriarch, Lady Hester Random (Smith), makes an appointment to have tea with Mussolini (Spadaro) and thus secures his promise of protection, but when England and Italy go to war, Il Duce breaks his word and imprisons the English nationals. The “Scorpioni” are forgotten in an old Italian hill town, save by Luca (Wallace), whose father had years earlier placed his young “illegitimate” son in the care of Mary Wallace (Plowright), and the wealthy American art collector Elsa Morganthal (Cher), who pays for their room and board until she herself is imprisoned when the United States enters the conflict.

What is perhaps most unusual about Tea with Mussolini is the near complete absence of food in a film featuring life in Italy. Tea, of course, figures prominently in the pivotal scene when Lady Hester visits Mussolini, but it is a very simple affair. Luca breakfasts on bacon and eggs with Italian bread, and he also enjoys a delectable ice cream sundae known as a “Knickerbocker Glory.” Possibly the lack of food is a reflection of the Depression and wartime setting of the story, or maybe it is an indication that despite all proclamations of fondness for their adopted country, the English could never really embrace the essence of Italy, the Italians’ utter abandon to the sensual pleasures of good food and fine dining.

Directed by Franco Zeffirelli
Written by John Mortimer and Franco Zeffirelli
Starring Cher as Elsa Morganthal Strauss-Armistan, Judi Dench as Arabella, Joan Plowright as Mary Wallace, Maggie Smith as Lady Hester Random, Lily Tomlin as Georgie Rockwell, Baird Wallace as Luca, Massimo Ghini as Paolo, Paolo Seganti as Vittorio Fanfanni, Claudio Spadaro as Mussolini, Mino Bellei as Cesare, Paul Chequer as Wilfrid Random, Tessa Pritchard as Connie Raynor, and Michael Williams as British Consul
Awards: 2000 BAFTA Film Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Smith); 2000 Hollywood Makeup Artist and Hair Stylist Guild Award for Best Period Hair Styling-Feature and Best Period Makeup-Feature; 2000 Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists Silver Ribbon for Best Costume Design