Is film food for the soul?

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“Used to be that artists in films were the likes of Vincent van Gogh (Lust for Life) and Michelangelo (The Agony and the Ecstasy), suffering and starving for their art,” writes Carrie Rickey. “Today’s artist in cinema is the chef (Babette’s Feast, The Big Night, Spanglish, Ratatouille and No Reservations.”

Rickey points out in her Philadelphia InquirerFlickgrrl blog, “Food is such an elastic metaphor that it can be stretched to embrace everything — from art to cannibalism, from capitalism to spiritual communion, from aphrodisiac to colonialism.”

So true.

So, by implication, food plays a role of its own when it’s presented in movies. And, in that role, it serves up special messages to moviegoers about living the good life and being good–or not.

What messages are food films really cooking up?

Rickey cites several examples:

  • Nelson Pereira dos Santos’ hilarious political allegory “How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman” depicts Brazilian Indians who resist colonization by eating the colonials.
  • In Luis Bunuel’s sly “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” gourmet food suggests capitalist consumption.
  • Gabriel Axel’s sublime Babette’s Feast (based on a story by Isak Dinesen) is about food as agent of religious revelation.
  • in Alfonso Arau’s “Like Water for Chocolate,” food is at once revolutionary, sensuous and emotional.
  • With these impressive titles in mind, can it be said that films about food are nourishment for the soul? Your thoughts?

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    Jennifer Merin

    Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association in the Film, Documentary and TV branches and a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).