Saturday, December 12, 2009

SCN offers cuisine, love and sex with Joaquín Oristrell's Mediterranean Food

Last year's opening night attraction at the Spanish Cinema Now fest -- Chef's Special, all about cooking and sex -- was such a silly, woebegone misfire that it appears the folks at the FSLC decided to try the same formula again this year, in the hope of getting it right. They have -- but not as the opening night attraction. MEDITERRANEAN FOOD (Dieta mediterránea) debuts tomorrow, Saturday, and offers everything that the earlier movie lacked: style, sophistication, smarts, story-telling skill, and just about the sexiest trio of lead performers imaginable.

Writer/director Joaquín Oristrell (at right) is no stranger to popular, clever, mainstream Spanish fare, having already given us Sin vergüenza and Unconscious, both of which were at SCN in earlier years, plus the delightful What Makes Women Laugh?, available in the USA on DVD. The guy has the gift of glomming onto current (seemingly ever-current) trends like the liberation of women, food and sex and making the most of these. In his latest tale that spans three generations in a family of chefs, he moves along lickity-split as his characters grow, change and learn, oh, so many new tricks.

Oristrell seems to understand, in the same way that do the best food movies -- Ratatouille, Babette's Feast and even Julie and Julia -- what it means to be passionate about creating something wonderful to eat, and how this can become the sine qua non of one's life. (Above, the threesome looks through the window of the kitchen into the dining room where a famous French chef is sampling the menu.) Though we observe plenty of food going past our view, it's not so much the look of the food but the look in the eyes of the characters that brings this home so beautifully.

Mediterranean Food, however, is as much about love and sex as it is about food, and it is here that it may most divide audiences. I love the fact that it is the woman who commands and arranges things -- both in the kitchen and the bedroom -- and how she bring together in workable fashion one of the truly splendid and unusual of modern relationships. The task is tricky and takes time and effort, but it makes emotional, psychological and -- boy, oh boy -- visual sense, particularly with actors present such as Paco León (above left), Alfonso Bassave (below, right) and, at the center of it all, Olivia Molina (daughter of Ángela Molina) shown in the two shots above and the one below, as the primary mover and shaker in terms of food and sex. Talk about beauty, chemistry and talent: These three are poster kids for the whole shebang.

From first scene to last, the movie barrels along with wit and charm aplenty, forever forcing its characters and us viewers to rethink and open up -- not a bad recipe, as a matter of fact, for many things in life. Interestingly enough, in some ways this trio mirrors the three students seen in SCN's Paper Castles (covered earlier today), except that they're older, a little wiser -- with fine cooking standing in for fine art. Mediterranean Food plays the Walter Reade Theater on Saturday, December 12, 7:15; Tuesday, December 15, 4:30; and Thursday, December 17, 9.

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