Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Movie Review: Like Water for Chocolate

Mexico, 1992
U.S. Release Date: 3/93
Running Time: 1:45
Rated: R (Nudity, sexual situations, violence)
Cast: Lumi Cavazos, Marco Leonardi, Regina Torne, Mario Ivan Martinez, Yareli Arizmendi

Director: Alfonso Arau
Producer: Alfonso Arau
Screenplay: Laura Esquivel
Music: Leo Brower
Studio: Miramax Films
In Spanish with English subtitles


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The title Like Water for Chocolate alludes to the Mexican custom of continually boiling a pot of water until it reaches its highest temperature – so that when the water is mixed with hard cocoa, the chocolate can easily melt and the hot cocoa can be enjoyed. This symbolic title also implies the inherent desire for lovers to release their sexual fervor by connecting the sensory with the sexual at the opportune moment.

Based on the novel by Laura Esquivel (who also penned the screenplay, narrates the motion-picture, and is the wife of the film’s director/producer Alfonso Arau), Like Water for Chocolate is a fantastical food-centric film; yet, it’s more of a lavish love story than anything else. On the whole, it is the combination of the suppressed romance and the film’s recurring food metaphors that elevate this foreign affair to the level of eroticism, enchantment, and extravagance.

In the early 1900’s, Mama Elena (Regina Torne) – a cruel widow, ranch owner, and mother of three daughters – informs her youngest, Tita (Lumi Cavazos), that she will never marry. Instead, in accordance with the family tradition, Tita must remain single and look after her mother until she dies.

Ignorant to this family tradition, Pedro Muzquiz (Marco Leonardi) falls in love with Tita. In an effort to get closer to the woman of his dreams, he agrees to marry Tita’s older sister Rosaura (Yareli Arizmendi). However, Pedro still longs for the touch of Tita, and Tita still incessantly yearns for Pedro. Through her frustration, Tita learns to expend her sexual energy into the food that she prepares, and in doing so she impacts those around her in grandiose ways.

Her sister Gertrudis (Claudette Maillé) is so aroused by Tita’s quail with garlic and rose petal sauce that she is spontaneously swept off her feet by a revolutionary cowboy. Her other sister, Rosaura, is assigned to a special diet to cope with her severe digestion problems, and the love of her life, Pedro, is awestruck by Tita’s attempts to gain his heart via his stomach.

Undoubtedly, the heart of the picture is in examining the effects of Tita’s cuisines on others; whatever emotion she pours into the recipe, the results are easily observable. She possesses the ability to stir her sentiments into a batter and bake them into an entrée, and by doing so, she is able to speak to those around her in a manner that does not require verbal communication.

In all of its wonder, Like Water for Chocolate is a story that combines the oppression of Cinderella, the mysticism of Babette’s Feast, and the sumptuous beauty of Romeo and Juliet. It is a magical tale straight from the heart of Mexico that covers all the bases from repression to freedom and jealousy to tragedy. For a voluptuously delicious cinematic comida, Like Water for Chocolate is sure to spike your senses. (***1/2 out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2005