I love food and I love films. When that smart Kossack, plf515, suggested a diary on food films last week I just had to take this gallantly offered opportunity and run with it.
As a former chef any film that deals with eating or drinking (both is good) is obligatory viewing for me. And if it's funny then it's the icing on the cake. Without further ado let me say that I'm a great fan of that incredibly disturbing, satiric film, "La Grande Bouffe". If you haven't seen it, then make it your duty to hunt for a copy, rent it and get really grossed out! In short, four men in serious mid-life crisis get together over a weekend for one last orgy of sex, lotsa gourmet eating, and decadent behavior before dying of overeating. Fans of Marcello Mastroianni will not be disappointed. I posted a small YouTube apercu below to whet your, ahem, appetite.
To view a classic film eating scene look no further than Albert Finney in Tom Jones. The scene below remains original if not a little kinky. Judge for yourself.
Watching people eat and how they eat, what they eat (and who eats who as in "Eating Raoul") often offers a profound insight into what makes them tick. Abstracted from the mundane reality of nourishment we are encouraged to speculate wildly on the given symbolism, and ultimately, we tend to look for the meaning of our own daily bread, no pun intended. Oddly enough I can only remember a quail dish being served in one of my favorite film, "My Dinner with André", a masterpiece of understatement. Ditto with "Alice's Restaurant". I can't remember the food either, just the look of a devastated Alice. One that is memorable is "Like Water for Chocolate", a knockout film which follows the adventures of Tita, an illegitimate girl who wants to marry the smoldering Pedro. Alas, her "mother" does not allow it and offers another daughter, Rosura. Pedro accepts in order to be close to Tita who spends her time throughout this film preparing meals. The funniest moments of this film are when the diners get to experience Tita's emotions when they eat her cooking. As everyone starts to eat the meal at Rosura's wedding they all begin to cry and mourn for lost loves.
Another must see food film is Tampopo. The movie, which director Itami calls a "noodle western," is an hilarious mixture of the kitsch and the sublime. The main story is that of a widow named Tampopo (which means "dandelion" in English) who struggles to keep going the modest noodle shop her late husband had opened on the outskirts of Tokyo. Business is bad. Arrives a rough truck driver, cowboy hat-wearing, Goro, and his sidekick Gun (played by a young Ken Watanabe) who help Tampopo's quest to search for the perfect bowl of steaming-hot ramen. What ensues is a film laden with Western films references like "The Magnificent Seven", "The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral", and a quite few more.
One film that I see periodically is Bunuel's "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie", a scathing and surrealistic political comedy masterpiece about a wealthy group of friends repeatedly prevented from beginning their elaborate dinner by increasingly strange events. Where's the beef, you might ask! Well, there isn't and that's the point of the film. I remember coming out of that film the first time I saw it, I was so hungry that I ended up in the nearest greasyspoon and murdered several burgers.
I truly hated "Who's Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?", not an ounce of fat in that one tedious flick. Which brings me to this gem, "Eat Drink Man Woman", Ang Lee's masterpiece of gourmet Chinese cooking. Since all the family members in the film have difficulty expressing their love for one another, the intricate preparation of banquet quality dishes for their Sunday dinners serves as a surrogate for the spoken expression of their familial feelings, with muted results. What do you expect from the man who made "Brokeback Mountain"?
Other food films I love, among lots of others: "Babette's Feast", "Big Night", "Tortilla Soup" and the one segment of "Viva Italia", in which a major food fight in a hotel's kitchen develops between two brothers, one is the chef and the other is the front man. The dining room is full of customers and the kitchen is completely destroyed. What fun!
Tom Jones YouTube:
And lastly when I was running my restaurant in Sydney, in the late seventies, it was closed on Sundays. I had to change it to Mondays as the second Fawlty Towers series aired on Monday nights only. In fact John Cleese's antics were responsible for most restaurants closing on Mondays. A few of us in the industry would gather at each other's homes and host a Fawlty Towers night, alongside ample food and wine, then after watching the new episode we'd spend the rest of the night watching re-runs of the first series. We knew all the dialogue and mouthed it off as it went. It's no wonder that both series (12 episodes in all) has been voted the best comedy series ever.
La Grande Bouffe YouTube: