What is so great about foodie films is that they seem go cover all genres of cinema. Food has the ability to become part of the story telling; it conveys culture and ethnicity, and enables the viewer to have a multi-sensory experience with the characters on the screen, smelling what they smell, tasting what they taste. In a way, it is almost another layer of language, connecting you to the characters, and I think that is why so many foreign foodies films have become so popular with English-speaking audiences (Babette’s Feast, Like Water for Chocolate, Eat Drink Man Woman, Tampopo, Delicatessen).
Here is a list of some of my favourite films about food. It isn’t exhaustive, and I will be updating it constantly. But please comment and let me know what your favourite films about food are too.
Waitress (2007 dir. Adrienne Shelly)
Waitress is probably my favourite film about food, and definitely in the top ten of favourite movies of all time. It is a bittersweet romantic comedy about a waitress called Jenna (Keri Russell) in an abusive marriage who bakes her sorrows into pies: how her life is transformed by an affair with her doctor (Nathan Fillion, who wouldn't?) – and how her baking transforms the lives of the people in her life. It is kind of hard to describe the film without making it sound a bit sentimental, or anti-feminist, but it really is wonderful. But then again, there isn’t anything wrong with a bit of sentimentality now and again – just ask Richard Curtis. Jenna’s hilarious co-workers, and the whimsical baking scenes cut through the more difficult moments in the film and I think it balances the whole thing without being too schmaltzy. It is a film I re-watch again and again (with a piece of pie to eat if I am really organised), and I cry every time. Tragically, the film’s writer, director and co-star Adrienne Shelly was murdered just before the film’s release.
Ratatouille (2007 dir. Brad Bird, Jan Pinkava)
Ratatouille was on TV the other night. It is an absolutely adorable movie set in Paris about a rat that wants to be a chef. I watched it with a smile on my face and homemade shakshouka in my tummy. I have seen it before, but I still was in complete sobbing bits by the end. I actually started crying even before the really emotive scene with the restaurant critic happened, just in anticipation of its resonant beauty. Such a wonderful, perfectly crafted movie, evocative of the magic of Paris, and how food really can be so important.
Babette’s Feast (1987 dir. Gabriel Axel)
Babette’s Feast is a Danish film, based on the novel by Karen Blixen. For me it probably is one of the best representations of the sensual power of food on film. It might even be the first foreign film I ever saw, except perhaps for Mivtsa Yonatan, which doesn’t count as we were made to watch it at school. It is incredibly beautiful in its simplicity. The film is set in the 19th century and focuses on the lives of two deeply religious sisters, who serve their villagers in honour of their dead Protestant minister father. Babette comes to the village as a refugee from Paris, and commits herself to working for the sisters in exchange for a place to live. She has to adjust to their bleak, Puritan life, but when she wins the French lottery she decides to cook a decadent feast for the village. Similar to the later film Chocolat, the villagers are terrified of how this extravagant food will open them up to more sinful ‘earthly’ desires (gluttony, lust etc).
The food magazine Epicurious sums it up pretty well:
‘Almost a quarter-century after the film's release, the culminating scene of this quietly urgent Danish drama still stands as the most beautifully rendered depiction of a lavish meal ever committed to celluloid. But it's not just spectacle for spectacle's sake: The triumphant banquet sequence also communicates volumes about the movie's central theme, the eternal tug-of-war between self-denial and sensual gratification.’
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009 dir. Phil Lord, Chris Miller)
I only saw this movie for the first time a few months ago, and I absolutely LOVED IT. I mean, it is completely bonkers. It definitely looks like all the production team were taking a lot of drugs, but hey, who am I to judge? It is a psychedelic, silly, and beautifully observed film. The bit with the giant jelly is one of the most beautifully animated scenes I have seen in a long while, and the children making angels in neapolitan ice cream completed melted my heart. And the nerd gets the girl in the end.
Julie & Julia (2009 dir. Nora Ephron)
Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011 dir. David Gelb)
This is a documentary about an 85 year old called Jiro Ono. His sushi restaurant in a Tokyo train station has 10 seats, and three Michelin stars. I would never have imagined that a Japanese documentary about sushi could be so compelling, but it is truly wonderful. His absolute integrity and obsession for perfection is just not something that we see all that often.
I have made sushi before, but obviously nothing at all like what they were doing. Everything they made just looked so incredible that it made me want to give up on keeping kosher just to go to Jiro's restaurant and eat sushi - I don't think he would be that impressed with an 'only fish with fins and scales' request. The film also has a strong environmental message, which is nice too.
The Lunchbox (2013 dir. Ritesh Batra)
The Lunchbox is a beautiful and moving Mumbai-set film, revolving around a mistaken delivery of a lunchbox, which leads to a poignant letter-based relationship between a lonely widower, and an unhappy housewife. It seems like an Indian film made for Indians, not glamourised or exoticised; but more of an honest reflection of the everyday lives of people.
In Mumbai many office workers use a dabba-wallah service to deliver freshly cooked curries in tiffin boxes/dabbas, often from their homes to their offices every lunchtime. This dabba-wallah system was analysed by Harvard and Forbes magazine and found to have a percentage of correctness is 99.99999 or more: for every six million tiffins delivered, only one goes missing - or, one box every two month. When I saw how the system works in the film, the first question that came into my head was 'why don't the office workers just take the food with them in the morning?' And 'why don't they take them home at the end of the day?' I don't know why, but it seems like their system provides a lot more employment, and works like clockwork. Perhaps efficiency and streamlining isn't the best in every respect.
The food in the film looks incredible, and real respect is given to its careful preparation, and its enjoyment in the office canteen. I think it is really interesting how food is used as the method of communication. The curries look delicious (and vegetarian), and I was salivating by the end of the film. The film offers profound thoughts on love, life and happiness, and I highly recommend it.
"Sometimes the wrong train can lead you to the right station."
Sweet Bean (An) (2015 dir. Naomi Kawase)
This is a Japanese film about a sullen guy who works in a doryaki shop (pancakes), and a little old lady who makes incredibly delicious sweet bean paste (pancake filling). It is contemplative, funny and also sad, touching on some dark parts of Japan's past that I knew nothing about. I saw this film very recently after hearing a review of it from Robbie Collin, and then immediately needing to find a screening of it. Its hard to describe how such a simple film with a relatively predictable story can be so beautiful or so moving. I made the mistake of wearing a lot of eye makeup when I went to see the film (beautifully projected at the ICA), and was digging my nails into my palm and trying to breathe very carefully to stop myself crying. I found it's beauty, stillness and simplicity overwhelming. It has had mixed reviews, but for me it reminded me a lot of the Lunchbox actually (see above), and I thought it was excellent.
The Guardian writes: The deceptive simplicity parts like curtains to reveal something a little more knotty. What at first seems to be a reaction against the acceleration of contemporary culture – Tokue sweats long, painstaking hours every morning coaxing unforgiving aduki beans into the sweet bean paste which becomes a local sensation – later serves as a window on to a less palatable element of Japan’s past.
Also check out this excellent Buzzfeed http://www.buzzfeed.com/justinabarca/movie-scenes-that-will-make-you-hungry