Like Water For Chocolate (Como Agua Para Chocolate)
Director – Alfonso Arau, Screenplay/Based on the Novel by Laura Esquivel, Producers – Alfonso Arau & Emilia Arau, Photography – Steven Bernstein & Emmanuel Lubezki, Music – Leo Brouwer, Production Design – Marco Antonio Arteaga. Production Company – Cinevista/Fonatur/Fondo de Fomento a la Calidad Cinematográfica/Gobierno del Estado de Coahuila/Instituto Mexicano de Cinematografía/Arau Films Internacional/Aviacsa/Secretaria de Turismo
Lumi Cavazos (Tita de la Garza), Regina Torne (Elena de la Garza), Marco Leonardi (Pedro Muzquiz), Mario Ivan Martinez (Dr John Brown), Yareli Arizmendi (Rosaura de la Garza), Claudette Maile (Gertrudis de la Garza), Pilar Aranda (Chencha), Ada Carrasco (Nacha)
Mexico at the turn of the 20th Century. Widowed landowner Elena de la Garza informs her daughter Tita that because she is the youngest child that according to family tradition Tita must spend the rest of her life serving her. Tita is heartbroken when Pedro Muzquiz, who is deeply in love with her, comes to ask her hand and her mother insists that he marry her sister Rosaura instead. Forced to be her mother’s servant, Tita’s repressed emotions come to express themselves through the food she cooks.
Like Water for Chocolate comes in the unique Latin American literary tradition of Magical Realism. In this tradition, the magical and spiritual blends with real life in a way that is completely taken for granted (unlike the emphasis of the disjunct that is a feature of Anglicised fantasy).
Like Water for Chocolate stirs an appealingly earthy blend of magic and heated emotion. Love is talked of in a way that is sweeping, absolute and all consuming. The spiritual cooking set-pieces are wonderfully done – the wedding cake of sadness for one’s true love lost; and especially the sequence with the quails cooked in rose petals that allow the two separated lovers to remotely express their suppressed passion for one another through one of the other sisters, culminating in the wonderfully surreal image of a shower bursting into flame as the sister bathes and the aroma carrying to the bandit who snatches her up onto his horse as she runs out into the desert naked. There is an amazing transcendent ending where the two tragic lovers finally get to celebrate their love together and their pent-up passion causes the bed to explode into flame and consume them, they reuniting in a glowing tunnel into the hereafter where their lives will be able to be lived as they should have been.
Unfortunately, in between the cooking set-pieces, Like Water for Chocolate gets dragged off into a long and drawn-out family drama. Too much time is spent on the subplots dealing with the lives of the other various family members, while the subplot about Regina Torne’s ghostly revenge and the phantom pregnancy drags the film out far longer than it should. The film needed to be shorter, sharper, less drawn out – it could have benefited from easily half-an-hour less running time. The film should have been built up around each meal and tends to lose it in these long stretches. Like Water for Chocolate is nevertheless a well-made film with fine acting from the whole cast, especially the lovely Lumi Cavazos and Regina Torne as the iron-willed matriarch of the family.
The theme of transcendental cooking first appeared in Babettes Feast (1987) and has since been used in several other films, including the inane teen romantic drama Simply Irresistible (1999), the frothy Magical Realist romance Woman on Top (2000), the dull mainstream hit Chocolat (2000) and the Indian The Mistress of Spices (2005).