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THE AGE OF INNOCENCE/ FOOD FILMS/

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Martin Scorsese/ US/ 1993/ 138mins

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With its nineteenth-century WASP setting, The Age Of Innocence posed a new culinary challenge: how to recreate the elaborate dinners of Edith Wharton's high society and give these unfamiliar rituals dramatic meaning? Scorsese's solution was to go for the same total detail and authenticity as in his gangster movies. Every course and setting in every meal is meticulously researched, and its significance registered in the social dance that steers Newland Archer away from the exotic Countess Olenska and ensures that he stays with demure, yet steely May Welland. Dining is no more innocent in this social jungle, where, to Scorsese's delight, the most violent thing that happens is a breach of etiquette.

With infinite care and attention, May Welland defends her relationship with Newland Archer. May knows or suspects everything that is happening between Newland and the Countess, but she chooses to acknowledge only certain information, and works with the greatest cleverness to preserve her marriage while never quite seeming to notice anything wrong.

Each performance is modulated to preserve the delicate balance of the romantic war. Daniel Day-Lewis stands at the centre, deluded for a time that he has free will. Michelle Pfeiffer, as the countess, is a woman who sees through society without quite rejecting it, and takes an almost sensuous pleasure in seducing Archer with the power of her mind. At first it seems that little May is an unwitting bystander and victim, but Winona Ryder gradually reveals the depth of her character's intelligence, and in the last scene, all is revealed and much is finally understood.

There have been love scenes in which naked bodies thrash in sweaty passion, but  rarely more passionate than in this movie, where everyone is wrapped in layers of Victorian repression. The big erotic moments take place in public among fully clothed people speaking in perfectly modulated phrases, and they are so filled with libido and terror that the characters scarcely survive them.

Turtle Soup  is served at ALL the fine dinner parties, usually the second of 12 to 14 courses. Early in the movie, a crate of small turtles (NOT sea turtles) is shown making its way to a kitchen).