24 September 2011

Like Water for Chocolate: A Sensory experience

Like Water for Chocolate had the duty of making every day eating and living a sensual experience; capturing small moments over a lifetime and showing how the ordinary can become those pinnacle moments in life. The Film Experience by Corrigan and White on page 63 says that in this movie, "rarely has a taste for the texture and smell of food...been re-created as intensely. This intensity was created through several uses of mise en scene, like lighting, contrast, use of props setting and historical actor portrayal.

The first moment of mise en scene to be touched upon is lighting and how the dark, luxurious colors are used to draw attention to the food which plays such a central role in the love story. There is so much contrast in this movie over the bold natural colors of peppers, chilis, and mole that are brewing in the kitchen and the stark woodenness of the rest of her mother's house lit with electric lamps which holds her prison. One element of mise en scene involving lighting is that for one scene or movie a semi-dark room lit by fires can be ominous and dreadful but this same lighting scene can also become the place where someone can feel truly at home. Tita is nurtured within the rich, wooden fires and the smell of homemade Spanish goodness at her grandmother's breast. For the rest of the movie Tita, and subsequently her baby niece find refuge only in the smell, coloring and warmness of the kitchen. The kitchen becomes the place where Tita will eventually brew her magic food which has power over the emotions of simple people.

Another way that the audience was wrapped in by the food, and the sensory experiences associated with not just a great meal, but for many of them, life changing meals, was through the contrast between the high Victorian dressing of the early 1900's and then the simple peasant shifts of Mexican women in the country. This use of naturalistic tradition allowed a large contrast to be present as the costume were representative of the time of the Federalist war in which Queen Victoria's strict Victorianism was embraced but so were the traditions of home life reflected in Hispanic families. This contrast was played upon so many times, emphasizing the difference between the harsh, high-necked Victorian mother who cared solely for reputation and order, and a moment in time captured of Tita, grounding corn in a simple, white shift allowing her one breast to be aware of the gaze of her lover. But even her mother cannot resist the love and passion that Tita magically brings into her families food causing everyone to lower their blouses and marvel in the power of self-love. Tita's magic food has the power to even send her sister past the expectations of society running, literally, naked into the arms of a lover. In the kitchen you can smell the passion that Tita pours into the broth sending high Victorians to their knees in the same gentle way it sends the lowest of these.

In this movie, a broth was not simply a soup. The steam rising off the broth could symbolize love unrequited. It could stand for anger about to boil up with the unrelenting mother character. But never were the scrumptious dishes Tita prepared, simply about food. When Tita cries one tear into the pot where the marriage cake is being prepared, instantly her tear ruins all the food. The marriage banquet becomes a scene of tens of people throwing up and relieving themselves anywhere they can. Her one tear which slowly falls into the biggest pot in the kitchen had the power to send everyone to the toilets because they could feel the power of love thought to be lost forever and the insides of a person breaking within their simple vanilla cake. Another scene has Tita preparing a meal out of the roses Pedro gave to her but her mother forbade her to keep. She goes through the whole process and you see her internal battle with giving up a gift Pedro gave her but transporting it into a meal full of passion and love. Her mother and sisters can't help but allow themselves to give into the passion they can taste with their teeth and tongue. How do you turn down the power of emotions baked into a meat dish? These same roses are brought up again later in the story where Tita washes the burns off Pedro's back with rose petals. Once again, rose petals simply are no longer a gift but a symbol of care and eternal love.

As we later learn, Tita's magic food had the power to corrupt and kill in the same way it could also show great, life-changing love. The food in the movie although prepared in simple Mexican fashion, slowly roasted and a treat for the audience's eyes became beyond a lovely dish, to a metaphor. Metaphorical props are simple objects that are employed for unexpected or in Tita's case, a magical purpose. These props were used to futher the story of love and passion between Tita and Pedro that never died even within all those years of separation. In conclusion, the intensity that was created within many of the sensuous, voluptuous scenes was built upon many uses of mise en scene to get the overall effect of passion and love between two characters who could never truly be together.

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