food in the arts


Dir: María Ripoll / Writing credits: Hui-Ling Wang  (earlier screenplay) and Ang Lee/ Cast: Hector Elizondo, Jacqueline Obradors,Tamara Mello/ 2001

In this charming remake of Ang Lee's Eat Drink Man Woman, Hispanic chef Martin (Hector Elizondo) opens the movie making squash blossom soup (which daughter Carmen criticizes for not including the seeds of the serrano peppers.)  And youngest daughter Maribel (Tamara Mello) precipitates disaster when she tries to teach her Brazilian boyfriend (Nikolai Kinski) soup manners. But it's the tortilla soup scene that is the heart of the movie, when Martin begins to accept his daughters' love and free will. Daughter Letitia (Elizabeth Peña) brings home for dinner the man she's just eloped with:

Orlando (Paul Rodriguez): "I love toppings. I've always loved toppings. Sometimes I go to restaurants and I just ask for toppings. You know, I say, the more toppings the merrier. I, ...that's what I say.
Carmen (Jacqueline Obradors): "You like Tortilla Soup?"
O: "Yes, yes, of course. Yes, my mother used to make it for us all the time. [pause while he tastes] She never made it like this. This is, is the best Tortilla Soup I've ever had."

Tortilla Soup retells the Ang Lee story fairly closely, retaining many of the scenes from the original (though it does drop one story-line completely, which improves the flow of the film a great deal). In fact, most of the changes made to the movie improve on the original, and while original films are almost always more appealing than their descendants, I preferred "Tortilla Soup" in almost every way (the movie misses the pristine visual composition of the original, but this is a small trade-off, and more than made up for by the handsome production design). It's often said that comedy is much more difficult to translate than drama, but a movie as enjoyable as "Tortilla Soup" doesn't need to justify it's existence as a remake. The cast is filled with actors that have proven their capability time and time again, and they interact here with a low-key assurance that radiates throughout the production and fills the screen with warmth and festive good spirit.

Standing out from the rest of the excellent cast is Hector Elizondo, whose portrayal of a man whose life consists, in about equal measures, of running the kitchen of a highly successful restaurant and the lives of his three daughters. Mr. Elizondo projects calm, complete authority in every scene he is in; even in the cooking scenes, he moves through the kitchen, handles the food, checks the army of bubbling pots with the assurance of the master chef. Throughout his career, Mr. Elizondo has combined his dignified appearance with a precise comic timing that has led to many scene-stealing supporting roles as a slow-burning straight man. Between his perfectly manicured goatee and his gleaming bald head, he has given his characters a look that simultaneously penetrates his co-actors and twinkles just enough to let the audiences members know that he is not just in on the joke, but knows it better than the stars themselves. In this movie, he is the star, and it is wonderful to see him use that cultivated persona in new and enriching ways. He finds perfect credibility as a man who uses the strength of his will to make food transform itself according to his wishes, and yet finds himself baffled when the same approach fails with his daughters.

The movie itself finds comic moments throughout based on the confusion generated when men and women try to interact with each other and the inability of one side to understand how the other works. Fortunately, though, they do (work, that is), and it's a relief to see a comedy that's equally as perceptive of both men and women, and while the plot of the film hinges on the clashes between the members of the family, the characters themselves remain wholly, delightfully functional.

T. Baron and Gerry Nepomucena

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Tortilla Soup [Fr. Import anglais]  
The film 'Tortilla Soup' in the context of Mexican life in USA and type and stereotype of Chicanos and Latinos in film [UK]