harles Chaplin shines an empty plate while waiting for the meal that is cooking: from the smelling pot no tasty food appears, but an old black boot that the genius of the silent film disassembles and savours, as if it was some delicatessen. The scene belongs to the movie The Gold Rush, premiered in 1925 in the United States, an iconic movie that shows the relationship between cinema and gastronomy. At the beginnings of the seventh art, food was integrated as a regular element of films and even acquired new uses. How many spectators have laughed when seeing a cake stamped on the face of a character? A comic action used for the first time in the silent film Mr. Flip -starring Ben Turpin, in 1909- that, later, would become the sweetest aggression that cinema has ever immortalized.
Gastronomy has been linked to celluloid since its inception, when the Lumière brothers filmed a baby eating, in 1895. Since then, whether on black and white, colour, or cartoons, its presence has been consolidated, most especially since the eighties of the last century.
Everyday situations such as pleasure, desire, appetite and relationships between people have been staged both around a well-set table or at all-level cuisines, as much as in markets or in all kinds of restaurants. To the point that one can prepare a “cinema menu”, as did Carme Ruscalleda and his son, Raül Balam, at the restaurant Moments, located in the Mandarin Oriental hotel, Barcelona. Now, the list of dishes seen on the screen is much longer.
When we talk about European cuisine and cinema, the first country that we think of is Italy. From the more social perspective, where food -or rather its absence- is a symbol of scarcity, such as Poverty and Nobility by Mario Mattoli or Rufúfú (I soliti ignoti) by Mario Monicelli, both produced in the 50’s, to Mafia movies like The Godfather, with characters who prepare with the same meticulousness a crime and a succulent sauce for a pasta dish. Delight for food is the common element and reflects the importance of gastronomy in Italy, as Massimo Pascucci, owner of the restaurant Massimo, in Barcelona, explains: “All Italian culture moves around food, even important deals are signed on the table. We have a very matriarchal inheritance, where the pleasure of gastronomy is very important. For us, preparing a dish of spaghetti is not just boiling the pasta and adding the sauce, it is much more, and films show this reality”.
But if there is a movie that depicts the pleasure for food to the utmost consequences, that is La Grande Bouffe, a French and Italian co-production of 1973 directed by Marco Ferreri and scripted by Rafael Azcona. The protagonists are a group of friends who want to commit suicide by eating with no limits. The film is a culinary festival of dishes prepared by one of the actors, Ugo Tognazzi, and throughout the story the pleasures of food are mixed with sex. Italian gastronomy also becomes a protagonist in Mostly Martha, starring a German cook who sees the monotony of her existence altered by a family event and the appearance of an Italian chef who shares with her the passion for the transalpine country’s food.
Hollywood cinema has undoubtedly been the most important when it comes to promoting consumer habits and new trends. Taking a glass of white wine has become a symbol of seduction in romantic scenes and has increased the sales of this product.
The other major protagonist of the European cinema hobs is France. The exquisiteness of their dishes is perfectly reflected in the Danish film Babette’s feast where a French cook prepares a generous banquet with the best ingredients and a careful presentation to help overcoming the problems of a rigid community of neighbours. Similar effects has the chocolate that Juliette Binoche serves in Chocolat, the film of Lasse Hallström set in a French town where cocoa and its garnishes sweeten the character of the inhabitants of a very conservative place. Even cartoons have played a leading role in this gastronomy, with the enchanting chef Remy, a rat that seduces a demanding critic thanks to a traditional recipe called Ratatouille, which gives title to this animated film from the Disney factory.
Hollywood cinema has undoubtedly been the most important when it comes to promoting consumer habits and new trends. Taking a glass of white wine has become a symbol of seduction in romantic scenes and has increased the sales of this product. Another similar phenomenon is that of the movie Sideways, directed by Alexander Payne in 2004, which promoted the sale of pinot noir and the practice of oenological tourism.
Festivals like Film & Cook, in Barcelona, show that this relationship has a long history: “Cinema is the great speaker of gastronomy and the best tool to explain it”, says Verónica Escuer, director
Fast food is one of the hallmarks of US gastronomy. And, of course, this could not go unnoticed in the movies. Like pastrami sandwich, smoked and seasoned meat, which appears on the scene where Meg Ryan feigns an orgasm in front of a stunned Billy Cristal at When Harry Met Sally… or Shawarma, a fast food classic from the Middle East that, after appearing in The Avengers, increased its sales in the United States around 70%.
Mexican cinema has also stimulated the palate with Like Water for Chocolate (Como agua para chocolate), a series of recipes, dishes and flavours in the life of a girl forced to remain single in order to take care of her mother.
The popularity of Ferran Adrià and the international prizes obtained by Catalan restaurants and chefs have increased the social interest for gastronomy, and cinema is not alien to this phenomenon. Festivals like Film & Cook, in Barcelona, show that this relationship has a long history: “Cinema is the great speaker of gastronomy and the best tool to explain it”, says Verónica Escuer, director of Film & Cook Festival. In the last years, the seventh art has literally entered the kitchen and we can realize how the success of El Bulli, Ferran Adrià’s restaurant, was produced in the movie El Bulli. Historia de un sueño.
Images: The Gold Rush (1925, Charles Chaplin) / Poverty and Nobility (1973, Mario Mattoli) / La Grande Bouffe (1973, Marco Ferreri) / The Godfather (1972, Francis Ford Coppola) / Babette’s feast (1987, Gabriel Axel) / When Harry Met Sally (1989, Rob Reiner) / The Avengers (2012, Joss Whedon)