Like Water for Chocolate/B+,C
Touchstone/1992/105/WS 1.77

     A dreamlike essence pervades this highly successful  import from Mexico.  Magical images that bear direct ancestry to the surreal paintings of Mexican icon Frida Kahlo are captured on the screen from the novel by Laura Esquivel. Esquivel's former husband, Alfonso Arau, directs the screenplay by Esquivel, doing justice to the unique sensibility of the author.

Down by the riverside. İTouchstone

     Like Water for Chocolate relates a Cinderella-like story of the youngest daughter of a Mexican family who's fate is dictated by her cold and selfish mother. The mother insists that the youngest daughter never marry; instead, she must stay at home to care for Momma in the silver years of her life. When a suitor for the daughter presents himself, due to the inflexibility of the mother, he winds up marrying one of the elder sisters in order to be near his lover. The fate of the family is sealed by the stone heart of the mother.
       The key to the success of this film is the delicate recipe for romance, pathos and humor. In fact, this is one those food movies where preparation of sumptuous meals integrates splendidly with the plot. Watch out when peeling those onions chefs.  While there is indeed a large measure of pathos, the film unfolds more like a tall  tale, and the tenor of tone is never tragic. The film opens as the great niece of heroine Tita ponders information from the cookbook of her great aunt that links her to the family's past. As she begins the narrative, with an onion atop her head to prevent crying, Like Water for Chocolate takes on the mythic quality of the stories handled down generation to generation.  The transition from contemporary kitchen to turn of the century Mexico in throes of revolution is folded into the batter of this piquant film eloquently. It is obvious from the outset that we are about to enjoy a cinematic meal of delightful preparation.
       Lumi Cavazos plays Tita with extraordinary innocence, spiced delicately by a hunger stimulated by the pungent aromas of a country kitchen. Cavazos anchors the film solidly. She is a totally sympathetic character. There is even a surreal quality to her being totally in keeping with the film content. Regina Torne balances the sweetness of Cavazos with the bitterness of dried chilies in her  portrayal of her mother. Claudette Maille is splendid as the passionate free spirit Gertrudis, the middle sister. Her au natural elopement is hilarious.
       The cinematography  attempts to accentuate the aspects fantasy through the use of warm filters and a pale palette. Dark scenes are dimly lit and are projection sensitive even in the theater. The choice of a more intense palette of colors might have achieved a greater effect for the film, especially in the depiction of the foods.
     Romantic elements translate very well to what might be typically called a "woman's picture," yet the eccentric sense of humor is appealing to younger audiences. Like Water for Chocolate is a passionate hybrid that will make an excellent main course for an evening's entertainment.
     The DVD is working from a distinct disadvantage. The pervasive soft and pale photography does not transfer well to home video, creating demands on the system that are unreasonable. In order to obtain satisfactory levels of light output,  it is necessary to compromise other aspects of the picture.  Perhaps adjustments could have been made at the transfer stage to diminish this problem to some degree, but one can argue that the transfer successfully mirrors the intent of the director. The pressing is clean and the colors are not blurred, and the stereo sound is fine, though not overly aggressive for those who like a big punch. The yellow English subtitles are easy to read and Touchstone has provided an alternate dubbed English soundtrack on the analog tracks. (I found the dubbing a detriment to the acting, but it is a major convenience for those of you who abhor titles.



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