Food [in] Film: An Introduction to a Lens
Regardless of lifestyle or culture, food remains one of the binding elements of our survival; an always present and integral part of our survival. Oftentimes, the scenes of our life play out on the cavernous walls of our memory accompanied by orchestras of olfactory and gastronomic artistry.
Painting of course can successfully capture the sumptuous red of the perfect apple, or the joy of family or friends sharing a meal. Sculpture can capture the shape; and exquisite sculpture might even convey texture. It is film, however, that can catapult food to the forefront of importance by emphasizing its presence or absence in the lives of those characters with whom the audience is connecting, sympathizing, or empathizing.
In such films, ‘food films’, Food does not just serve as an addendum to the story, or as connective tissue to propel the plot forward. In fact, in many such films Food is a protagonist without whom there would be no story at all. The silent role adds colour to bland settings; it captivates our emotions and focus, while serving also as the backdrop scenery to itself; Food gives depth, avenue for expression, and significance of circumstance when present in a film.
Likewise, the absence of Food in film can be equally as profound in conveying messages of destitution, struggle, or burden. Food is a tool and mechanism that, when incorporated appropriately by filmmakers, approaches a dimension of our lives that we can relate to in a concise and very intimate way.
In the coming weeks, I hope to introduce well known and little-known films that bring Food to the table in a way not all of us may recognize. One film that epitomizes both sides of this coin is Babette’s Feast (1987), a Danish film directed by Gabriel Axel and is an adaptation of Isak Dinesen’s story. Rent this. Net-Flix it. Do whatever it takes to see this film if you haven’t already. Not only is it artistically beautiful, but it is also an exquisite piece that everyone who loves either film or food (and definitely both) should watch.
There is a mystery to Babette that I am not qualified to unveil, nor want to in hopes to preserve its flavour for you. Know, however, that the absence of food [beyond basic and bland] represents the Puritan sensibility of restraint that saturates the early setting of the film; yet ultimately, food in its most glorious and beautiful form serves as the variable that allows for spiritual reconciliation. Food is both a leading and supporting role; it is the character that we watch develop in importance as she integrates into the society of the film. Food makes an impact, it causes change, and it captivates our emotion and piques our palate with ideas and tastes we want to experience, and with inspiring visions of what can be done with and by food.
In the weeks to come, films like Babette’s Feast will be the more detailed lenses of this blog—with analysis, philosophy, and cultural perspectives added to the recipe of this discussion. From this blog, hopefully you will eventually take a way a good film recommendation, a good new recipe from Sophia, and perhaps even a new understanding of how a culture or person views food in their life as reflected in film. Though the Food Film genre is more limited in number, there are plenty of Food Films I have already seen and many more I have on my NetFlix queue that I hope to share with you and that you will enjoy and appreciate in the weeks to come.
In the meantime, try to take notice of where and how food plays even a minor role in all of your favourite films or not-so-favourite; international or domestic art films; a good film, or a terrible film; or major blockbuster productions. Ask yourself: where, if anywhere, is Food? What socio-economic, cultural, philosophical, or religious connotation does food take on? Who relates to food, and who shuns it? This thought process will get us in the mood for this coming discussion!
On a brief aside, examples of periphal 'supporting role' food-film references that you might notice in 'everday films': In what manner is working at a pulled-pork pit in rural Texas (Whip It) viewed? How does eating alone—the act of food consumption—add impact or emotion to a scene (Being Julia, or Sherlock Holmes)? Why and how is the special access to ingredients and the slicing of garlic, in the prison, such a show of power (Goodfellas)?
Keep an eye out for this column, and I will be back next week for our first showcase of where and how food in film can be brought into your home and to your table as a discussion piece when you break bread with those around you.
For now: Cut! That’s a wrap.