Like Water for Chocolate (Como Aqua Para Chocolate) Review

Of all the old wives tales you hear banded about, one of the most popular is the saying that ‘the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach’. Like Water for Chocolate takes this saying and turns it into a magical and mystical movie that revolves around food and the role it plays in life and love.

The film mainly concerns the life of Tita and her two sisters, Gertrudis and Rosaura. All three sisters live along with their mother – Mama Elena in a ranch on the Mexico / Texas border at the beginning of the 1900’s. As the youngest of the sisters Tita is forbidden by family tradition to marry or have children, instead she is to tend to her mother until her dying day. As a result of her father dying the day after her birth, Tita has been brought up in the kitchen of the ranch and has learned much about food and the important role it plays from Nacha the cook.

Unaware of the family tradition which binds Tita to her mother, a local boy Pedro falls in love with Tita (and she with him). He informs Tita of his intentions to ask for her hand in marriage, and subsequently requests permission from Mama Elena. This request is refused point blank, however a compromise is suggested that Pedro marry Rosaura instead, Pedro agrees to this as he realises that marrying into the family will be the only way he can be near his true love. While she understands his reasons for marrying Rosaura, Tita is unable to talk to, or be near, Pedro as her mother forbids it. However, when Tita is made head cook for the ranch she soon realises that she can communicate her desire for Pedro through the food she cooks for the family.

Like Water for Chocolate is a film that requires the viewer to suspend all disbelief and accept that food can affect people just in the method by which it is prepared. Most of the appeal of the movie lies in this simple premise, and a number of key dishes are used to enable the viewer to understand Titas passions and heartache respectively. The effects these dishes have are both sensual and comedic, but they add richness and a sense of magical realism to the movie.

The film is based on the novel by Laura Esquivel, who also adapted the screenplay from the book, and was directed by Alfonso Aura, Equivel’s husband at the time. Having read the book before watching the movie, the adaptation has been adeptly handled and is faithful to the book. The direction is capable and manages to convey the spirit of the film across well, and the use of the harsh, unforgiving Mexican landscape underlines the struggle that Tita and Pedro face.

Most of the cast of Like Water for Chocolate were reasonably experienced actors at the time, and the performances are all solid. In her first major role Lumi Cavazos is engaging as Tita, unfortunately the same cannot be said for Marco Leonardi (Pedro). Although his performance is capable there are times when he comes across as slightly stilted and unsure. It by no means spoils the film, but is increasingly noticeable on repeat viewings.

Picture

The Canadian release of Like Water for Chocolate is presented in pan and scan (4:3) and is non anamorphic, this is the release I am reviewing. A widescreen version has recently been released (by Buena Vista) in the original aspect ratio of 1:85.1, but this is also non anamorphic.

Unfortunately there is a lot of noticeable print damage in the form of scratches and white flecks. To add to this there is some grain noticeable in many scenes and a couple of instances of artifacting. All of these defects do not really distract from the enjoyment of the film, however the worst is yet to come. The main problem that I had with this transfer is that the darker scenes are just too dark, in fact on many occasions it is quite difficult to make out what is happening on the screen. Admittedly this is an oldish film, and one that the distributors thought may have limited appeal, but it would have been nice to have a better quality / restored print.

Sound

The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0, which is perfectly adequate for this dialogue driven film. The soundtrack never overpowers the dialogue and overall the soundtrack is clear and crisp.

Subtitles

The subtitles are clear and easy to read with no noticeable spelling or grammar mistakes, the Canadian release of the film also includes a dubbed French soundtrack (without subtitles). I only watched a few scenes with the French soundtrack (I didn’t think my GCSE French could cope!), but I was impressed with the lip synch, which is usually a problem on dubbed movies.

Menus

The menus are static, but are presented like pages from a recipe book – which is a nice touch and in keeping with the theme of the film.

Extras

Like Water for Chocolate was a low budget film, and this DVD release is hardly jam packed with extras. You do however get the following:

Biographies: A brief biography for a few of the stars of the film, the director and Laura Esquivel are included on the disk. These biographies are a one-page overview, and do not go into any major detail. This is quite disappointing especially as Aura has had quite a long and prolific career.

Film Synopsis: If you have never read the book or seen the film before, this brief synopsis gives some additional information about the movie and the characters. This can be read before watching the movie and does not give any important plot points away. A couple of recipes from the film are included (Wedding Cake and Quail in Rose Petal Sauce)

Summary

Like Water for Chocolate can best be described as a feast for the senses, it’s sensual, amusing, heartfelt and best viewed after a hearty meal ! It tells a simple story of enduring love and brings into play many different elements from the spiritual to the magical. It’s a shame that this release has so few extras and poor picture quality, as these do nothing to recommend it to anyone other than an existing fan of the film. However, if you shop around the widescreen release can be bought for around £13, which is hardly a great sum of money for such an enchanting film.

Film
7 out of 10
Video
4 out of 10
Audio
6 out of 10
Extras
3 out of 10
Overall

6

out of 10

Last updated: 03/07/2018 09:56:19

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