Like Water For Chocolate

Reviewed By Chris Parry
Posted 03/30/99 13:54:59

"Sometimes patchy, but enough good stuff to get you through two hours."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

This is the kind of movie you generally have to be forced to watch and ends up leaving you wondering why it took you so long to find the darn thing. Alfonso Arau's adaptation of his wife's (Laura Esquivel) writing sucks you in early and keeps you guessing throughout. The story is of a Mexican girl called Tita, the youngest of three sisters, who has fallen for a local lad by the name of Pedro. Despite their unquestionable love for each other, they can not marry because Tita's mother has plans to make her youngest daughter her personal servant until the day she dies, as per family tradition.

In order to stay close to his love, Pedro marries her older sister and life becomes somewhat weird. While making their wedding cake, a mortally depressed Tita somehow passes her emotions through her cooking, leaving all the wedding guests vomiting and crying. This trend continues, with Tita passing her emotions through he cuisine leaving future guests either horned up like a bitch in heat or farting uncontrollably.

If that sounds bizarre, it really doesn't quite explain just how bizarre this movie is. It hums along like a nice ol' Mexican period piece, then suddenly twists like a Jeunet/Caro film into utter surrealism. Often the sudden tacks in direction completely take you by surprise but it has to be said they also muddle the end result.

For the ladies, there’s oodles of that romantic business that us men-folk put up with to get to the good parts. More than that, there’s plenty of nudity to keep the lads happy, even if it is somewhat of the Ruben-esque fashion. Plenty of curvy gals, lots of breast-feeding and the constant feeling that any second now things are going to get real nasty. In fact, the title itself refers to a Mexican phrase for when a person is ready for sex – in Mexico hot chocolate is made with water, not milk, so when you’re all hot for someone, you’re “like water for chocolate.’

The acting is a mixed bag, with Lumi Cavazos a very agreeable lead and Regina Torne making her mother the sort of character you love to hate. The humor is enough to have you chuckling a great deal and cinematically everything looks very much more high budget than it is. Like Water For Chocolate took in some $20m at the US box office, which is a substantial grab for a subtitled release. You have to wonder what the housewives of Peoria thought about the film – especially with an ending that is so over the top that you just can't help but burst out laughing.

Ultimately though, the test of whether you'll appreciate this film is in the kind of film you normally go to see. If you liked Life Is Beautiful, Il Postino, Cinema Paradiso and the like, Like Water For Chocolate should be your thang. If Life Is Beautiful just confused and befuddled you, leave this on the shelf and pick up whatever has the words “A Jerry Bruckheimer Film” on the cover. Oh, a word of warning - don’t eat beforehand. There’s enough food in this thing to leave you gagging for the buffet by the time it’s over.

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