Emotions so powerful you can taste them

Issue 

Emotions so powerful you can taste them

Like Water for Chocolate
A film by Alfonso Arau
Reviewed by Elle Morrell

In Mexico, hot chocolate is made with water, not milk. One brings the water to a boil and then adds the cocoa. When someone becomes extremely agitated, it is said that they are "like water for chocolate". This expression is also used to describe sexual arousal.

This delightful Mexican film centres on two of life's most wonderful pleasures: food and love. Drawing on inspiration from authors like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabelle Allende, screenwriter Laura Esquival weaves a world of intermingled spirits and reality to create a bizarre story.

In 1910 in the northern Mexican plains, we meet Tita (Lumi Cavazos) and her family. Tita is the youngest daughter and, according to family tradition, can not marry because she is obliged to care for her mother until the day she dies.

Although her heart is captured by dashing neighbour Pedro Muzquiz (Marco Leonardi), her mother forbids them to show any affection. Instead, Mama Elena (Regina Torne) arranges for Pedro to marry one of her other daughters. He agrees so he can be close to Tita, the woman he truly loves.

What follows is an extraordinary concept. Tita spends most of her time in the kitchen with Nacha (Ada Carrasco), the family cook. Tita learns all Nacha's recipes and secrets, and develops the magical ability to transmit her feelings to anyone who tastes her food. She can make love to Pedro through delicious quail in rose petal sauce, entice the whole wedding party to share her sorrow in the cake she makes for Pedro's wedding to her sister and so on.

It really puts a whole new light on cooking. Esquival says, "I am convinced that one can transmit one's energies or feeling when cooking. For me the emotional charge is a reality, not just a metaphor."

This style of magic realism is used to express the larger problem faced by women of that time and culture, hemmed in by tradition and the mythology of machismo. Relegated to the kitchen and the bedroom, their destinies are controlled entirely by the husbands or families whom they are forced to serve.

Using the Mexican revolution as a backdrop provides a good contrast to Tita's personal attempt to take up the struggle. It was a time of great change with new values. Tita succeeds in producing a new type of woman: a liberated woman who can pass on family traditions and enter the kitchen out of love, not from a sense of obligation.

Although centred on the forbidden love of Tita and Pedro, Chocolate explores the strength of the indigenous Indian culture in influencing oral history, folk tales and belief systems. It is a melting pot of magic and realism which keeps you captivated to the fiery end.

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