Have you ever noticed that there’s virtually no food or eating (by humans, anyway) in the Star Wars movies? It’s true they’re not central to the plot, but no food=no feces, and the denial of feces is Milan Kundera’s definition of kitsch, which the Star Wars movies most certainly are. Just a little food for thought.
Movies specifically for the delectation of food lovers, on the other hand, I find far more odious. As you’ll probably gather, insofar as food movies can be considered a species of movie, it’s a species I wouldn’t mind seeing eradicated.
Babette’s Feast, 1987
Two chilly Viking spinsters in 19th century, middle-of-nowhere Denmark decide to hold a feast in honor of their late father and fretfully turn the preparations over to Babette, a French Catholic servant sent to them by one of many failed suitors. The movie, adapted from Karen Blixen’s novel, is pleasantly Bergmanesque and culminates in a sinful feast of turtle soup and quails’ eggs in pastry—quite a change for villagers accustomed to eating herring and bark three meals a day. And touched by a Papist, no less!
I won’t even officially acknowledge having seen this movie myself, much less recommend it to others. Juliette Binoche runs a French chocolate shop and riverboat rogue Johnny Depp wants to glaze her petits fours. Ten chocolate bonbons out of a possible 10 on the Russell Stover chick-flick scale. Not to be confused with the Claire Denis film of the same name, which has nothing to do with chocolate and is possibly the only movie in the world with chocolate in the title that isn’t pure rubbish.
Like Water for Chocolate, 1992
To wit: Better Than Chocolate, a predatory Canadian lesbian movie that might, might be better than getting fooled into eating a half-pound of chocolate laxatives. And Like Water for Chocolate: third-rate Mexican magic realism for fans of Merchant-Ivory productions looking for something spicier south of the border, worth it only for the radiant Lumi Cavazos.
Big Night, 1996
A so-so effort about two brothers (Stanley Tucci, who also co-directed, and Tony Shalhoub) trying to save their struggling restaurant with one big slap-up feast. Better known for its soundtrack, heavy on the Louis Prima/Keely Smith and other Americanized “Italian” music, and played to death in cookie-cutter “Italian” restaurants that pipe it in to create instant “Italian” ambiance. Tucci’s mother and the movie’s food advisor later wrote a tie-in cookbook.
Tortilla Soup, 2001
A pleasant and unassuming movie—pretty good, actually—about a Mexican-American master chef and single father (Hector Elizondo) who is losing his sense of taste but still makes lavish dinners every night for his three single adult daughters. American remake of Eat Drink Man Woman, a little too sweetly conflict-free in some ways, with a predictable pat ending.
The Cook the Thief His Wife& Her Lover, 1989
One of the few titles in the food-movie category—I wouldn’t call it a food lover’s movie—to actually take ownership of the entire digestive process from start to finish. The long tracking shot from the dining room to the bathroom is supposed to represent the alimentary canal. Not to mention the dog excrement (actually chocolate mouse). If kitsch is the denial of feces, this movie is the opposite of kitsch. Also the opposite of good. Every five years or so I decide to give this pretentious load of artsy tripe another chance, and every time I come this close to smashing the tape to pieces with a meat tenderizer. If you like it, we can’t be friends.
Lonely widow Tampopo’s noodle-shop cookery gets a comeuppance after a truck driver saves her son from a beating and impudently offers his frank opinion about the bad bowl of ramen she gives him as a reward. Together they strive to heat up her cuisine and defrost her sex life. Again, a pretty good one, and one of very few movies that actually leave you hungry for ramen. Unless you’re a college student.
Conspirators of Pleasure, 1996
Finally, a food movie that shows people for the perverted alimentary canals occasionally bumping into each other that we really are! The mousy mail carrier who nightly scarfs down balls of dough in this compellingly icky movie is only one of the characters with meticulously observed fetish rituals. Instead of hungry, Conspirators of Pleasure makes you want to scrub yourself with Lysol. Food, a short film included on the DVD as a bonus feature, is no aperitif, either. A cult favorite from Jan Svankmajer, a director better known for his Faust, performed with marionettes, and Alice, a creepy stop-motion version of Alice in Wonderland.
Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, 1983
The vignette with morbidly obese Mr. Creosote (Terry Jones, who also directed) gorging himself, vomiting into buckets and all over the carpet, and finally exploding after a wafer-thin dinner mint is a classic. And after seeing the Grim Reaper scene at an impressionable age, I have never once touched a salmon mousse.