Like Water for Chocolate

Alfonso Arau, Mexico, 1993, 114 minutes

The most successful foreign language film in the US in 1993, and a surprisingly lucid adaptation of the magical realism literary genre into conventional filmic grammar; Like Water For Chocolate is a consummate piece of cinema. Blending food, sex, mysticism and history into a compelling yarn, it cruises along nicely and doesn't disappoint.

Tita is the youngest of three daughters in a Mexican family at the turn of the century. Being the youngest she is forbidden to marry and must instead look after her mother. She falls in love with Pedro, though, who asks for her hand. Tita's mother refuses and offers him Rosaura, Tita's elder sister, and Pedro accepts to be close to Tita. Tita reacts by pouring all her emotions into her cooking, with dramatic results: her sister's wedding cake makes all the guests sick; a year later she imbues a quails dish with her latent sexual desires, and her other sister Gertrudis is carried off naked by a soldier of the Revolution. Pedro and his family move away and Tita gets married, but their love remains etemal through many other upsets, culminating in a memorable climax.

Arau's adaptation of the hugely successful novel by Laura Esquivel retains many of the magical realist elements, such as the flood of tears at the beginning, the ridiculously long piece of knitting, and the fiery ending. It also keeps the food motif central with many truly mouth-watering dishes. However it's the deft characterisation and evocative cinematography that really render this a cinematic work unhampered by its literary roots. The performances are sympathetic and credible, the stand-outs being Lumi Cavazos as Tita and Claudette Maille, who is superb as the errant Gertrudis.

Review by Mark Radice
Taken from EUFS Programme 1994-95