Movies that focus on the preparation and consumption of food are more often about the nourishment of the spirit than the body, and Tortilla Soup (based on Ang Lee’s Eat Drink Man Woman) is a textbook recipe.
Martin (Hector Elizondo), a Los Angeles chef and widower, adheres to tradition in his kitchen and in the father-knows-best way he’s raised three grown daughters who still live at home. He may be a master interpreter of the rich and varied cuisine of Mexico, but he’s willfully blind to the simmering frustrations of Leticia (Elizabeth Peña), Carmen (Jacqueline Obradors) and Maribel (Tamara Mello), which unexpectedly come to a boil during a series of life-altering Sunday dinners.
These mandatory family meals showcase Martin’s best and worst tendencies. He prepares lavish, beautiful meals which are stifling in their overabundance and predictability. They are no longer about pleasure, the sheer enjoyment of sharing delicious food. Now, it’s all about ritual, and in this family, routine has gone from comfortably predictable to downright stale. In neat succession, each family member declares that they have an announcement to make, and in a matter of months, everything they previously held dear will be shattered.
In Lee’s Eat Drink Man Woman, this transition represents changes taking place in Taiwan, from patriarchal tradition and cultural isolation to a more global outlook. Although he portrays the daughters’ rebelliousness as necessary, there’s a bittersweet quality to their victory because it means a particular way of life will vanish.
In Tortilla Soup, Spanish director María Ripoll (Twice Upon a Yesterday) opts to have everything turn out for the best. Screenwriters Vera Blasi (Woman on Top), Tom Musca and Ramón Menéndez (Stand and Deliver) have effectively pared the story down to its core but, as in many remakes, some key ingredients and subtle flavorings have been lost. It’s impossible to recreate the same dish using different ingredients.
Granted, Tortilla Soup is still substantial fare. But it’s like a spicy meal that has been carefully toned down to cater to blander tastes, instead of boldly tossing the recipe away and really cooking from scratch.
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Serena Donadoni writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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