List 7

If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him…The people who give you their food give you their heart. 

César Chávez

Greetings All,

Whether you are killing the hours by baking your 100th loaf of artisanal sourdough bread or scrounging around to self-medicate with Oreos, we think it’s safe to say that we are all getting pretty intimate with our pantries right about now. 

Eating is truly an extraordinary window into what makes us who we are as a species. Despite the fact that food is indeed a simple necessity that keeps our bodies going on a biological level, human beings have come to use food as a creative means of expressing love, devotion, service, and intercultural connection (even in situations, or perhaps especially in situations, where there isn’t much of it to go around). 

This relationship to our preparation and presentation of food brings to mind the whole point of making and watching movies in the first place. There aren’t many more potent acts of solidarity than either watching a film with friends and strangers or cooking for and eating with other people. So until we can all sit down to a lovely clam pasta together or meet up again at cinemas, we thought it would be nice to try to wrap our heads around how food and film fit together.

We start the week off with two documentaries that have left quite a mark on foodie culture in our country: Jason Wise’s account of four men studying for the Master Sommelier exam in SOMM (2012) has already led to two sequels and SOMM TV, a streaming service devoted exclusively to food and wine; likewise, David Gelb’s survey of Jiro Ono’s family and world-class sushi restaurant in Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011) helped pave the way for his immensely popular Netflix series, Chef’s Table(2015-present) and Street Food (2019-present).

While these two documentaries do an exemplary job of exploring the levels of obsessiveness that motivate those serving the best wines and preparing the best sushi in the world, this week’s remaining films shift our attention to the act of eating with friends and family: in addition to being a gorgeous love story, Luca Guadagnino’s modern Italian melodrama, I Am Love(2009), is a stunning portrayal of food as identity, sex, and a second chance; Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci’s Big Night (1996) is a funny and poignant depiction of two brothers’ attempt to save their struggling Italian restaurant with an epic multi-course meal for their friends and (wish-wish, hope-hope) Louis Prima; and finally, Gabriel Axel’s Babette’s Feast (1986) adapts a short story by Isak Dinesen (pen name for Karen Blixen) into a moving depiction of the spiritual power of French haute cuisine that won for Best Foreign Language Film at the 60th Academy Awards and remains a touchstone for cinematic depictions of food. 

Let’s get to it!