Big Night review

Big Night is so much more than just a great foodie movie.  Food in this movie is not just a storyline component but a language – a language that can create, seduce and inspire perfection.

This film is symbolic of:

  • Commitment
  • Cultural pride
  • Love
  • Infidelity
  • Friendship
  • Passion and hard work

Based around the 1950s, the storyline symbolises realism, – where you can possess the greatest gifts, and sell the most mouthwatering food, yet still go broke. It takes us on a journey of two brothers who have emigrated from Italy to America to open their own Italian restaurant called Paradise.

The older brother Primo is a magnificent but perfectionist chef who is  set in his ways. He believes by ‘Americanising’ the menu to suit the new environment it would cause him to lose his heritage. He despises people who expect spaghetti with meatballs when he can offer them the perfect risotto.  

Younger brother Secondo knows his brother is highly skilled but also knows the financial situation of the restaurant. He is a man empowered by their new life in America and the possibilities it may bring.

We see Primo labouring all day to present the perfect seafood risotto, but the customer finds no pieces of prawn or scallop. She complains that she has waited so long for this small dish of rice. When she asks for a side order of spaghetti she’s astounded that it doesn’t come with meatballs.

Not surprisingly, Paradise is at the edge of the bank foreclosing. Very few customers are wanting the real authentic Italian experience.

Secondo seeks help from a highly successful Italian restaurateur across the street, Pascal. His claim to fame is serving spaghetti with meatballs and flambe dishes. His success has come about from his ‘Americanising’ his restaurant. Although Pascal believes a working man should be able to look at his plate and appreciate the steak, not ask what the meal is, Primo feels he should be thrown away in jail for serving this type of food.

Pascal will not lend him money as he wishes for the brothers to work for him, but he will provide a favour by way of having his Italian-American singer friend Louis Prima visit their restaurant. He agrees to arrange for the singer and his band to visit, and organises a reporter to review visit in the papers. Pascal tells him that the newspaper promotion and word of mouth will cause their business to pick up and their restaurant to become popular. This is actually a set up to see the brothers fail.

Secondo feels as a struggling businessman that he cannot commit to his girlfriend Phyllis, yet carries on an affair with Pascal’s partner, Gabriella.

In the kitchen, we often find both Primo and Secondo engrossed in the food preparation and cooking – cooking with passion and pride. This signifies how devoted they are to their culture and restaurant.

Good friendships are within the small Italian immigrated community. We meet the baker, a priest, the florist Ann ( who Primo is very fond of) and  Alberto, the barber – Primo’s confidant.

Primo and Secondo devotedly prepare for the ‘big night’, spending all their savings on the right food and wine. All of their culinary skill and expertise is used to ensure the meal is magnificent and cooked to perfection.

Primo, being very shy, is hesitant to ask Ann to the special dinner. To appease his brother, Secondo requests she be there. Although Primo is shocked to see her there, we later see him affectionately feeding her lasagna and telling her, “to eat good food is to be close to God”. This is a special moment where Primo introduces Ann to his culture.

The film ends with the special dinner in honour of Louis Prima, who fails to show up. We see scrumptious dishes being served, one after the other. We see frivolity, singing, drinking and dancing; everyone enjoying the celebration. One particular mouthwatering moment we are presented with is the perfect Timpano, a rare Italian delicacy presented as the piece de resistance. When all of the courses are unveiled, we see the guests go into a type of food coma. One woman is found crying saying, “My mother was such a terrible cook’. This particular shot in Big Night expresses the feelings and emotions of all of the guests without a word being said.

Phyllis finds Secondo kissing Gabriella in the bathroom and runs off to swim in the ocean with Secondo hot on her heals. We see their final argument. Back at the restaurant, Gabriella insists Pascal tell Primo that Louis Prima had never even been invited. We see Primo and Secondo having an argument where for once the full truth is laid out on the table and we see Pascal admitting to Secondo that he set the brothers up with this dinner to fail, not for revenge for Secondo’s affair with his wife.

At the break of dawn, we see Secondo silently cooking the perfect omelette. Any cooking teacher will point out that this is the easiest thing to do yet the most difficult.  Dividing the omelette into three for himself, the waiter and Primo, a truce is drawn.

Food speaks languages. Big Night is an expression of our passion for food and life. This movie shows us what the two siblings knew all along – that food, and love, are unspoken universal languages known by all.

The One Hundred Foot Journey

The Hundred Foot Journey is a culturally clashing voyage of an incredible cook and a feud between his Indian family and a successful French restaurateur.

Food in this film signifies:

  • Cultural dissimilarity
  • Love
  • Commitment
  • Passion
  • Adaptation and acceptance
  • Cultural pride

The beginning sees young Hassan Kadam appreciatively savouring the natural taste of a sea urchin at the markets. Whilst being taught “an education for all the senses” by his mother, the family’s restaurant is burnt to the ground in a political protest with Hassan’s mother being tragically killed in the fire.

The family relocate from Mumbai to Europe and open Maison Mumbai, a traditional curry house. Across the road in the small French town is a Michelin starred fine-dining restaurant serving foie gras, pigeon with truffles and other refined delicacies. Food and cultural wars begin between Papa and the snobbish owner, Madame Mallory, fighting over anything and everything. The Kadam’s make the mistake of showing Madame their menu. “Curry is curry is it not?” remarks Madame. Being territorial, she buys the whole market out of all of their ingredients, causing additional conflict.

The film’s real protagonist is Hassan. Groomed by his mother to take over the restaurant in Mumbai, Hassan shows a natural culinary talent and is Papa’s secret weapon in this cultural restaurant war. Despite Hassan’s style being influenced by his late mother’s selection of spices, he yearns to be a great chef and to experience and be accepted by other cultures. He eventually masters French cuisine after recipe books are left on his doorstep by Marguerite, Madame’s sous-chef, starting with the five French sauces. “Food is memories”, declares Marguerite.

Images depicted in the scenes from Madame’s kitchen and dining room show the importance and influence in which Madame has on the local society and also in the way in which the food communicates the message.

When Hassan proves to be as talented at conjuring up a béchamel sauce as tandoori goat, Madame seeks his help in securing a second Michelin star. Although this causes rivalry with his beloved Marguerite, with his own twist the star is awarded.

 This film portrays the tension between immigrant generations, desire, acceptance, pride and endurance. Hassan wants to prove himself and to belong in a new world.

Smartly constructed, we see scenes of fluffy omelettes, succulent sauces and rich meats. This isn’t a movie to watch on an empty stomach.

Throughout this film we see the overwhelming heartache of immigrants wanting to belong to a new cultural identity as well as the need to assert their own identity through food. We see how the pride in one’s culture can easily cause obvious racism. We see an end to the cultural war through the appreciation and love of food and humanity. We also see how pride and determination can allow you to be anything you desire. A very tasty hundred foot journey.

Food in film

No film sub genre has been more successful than the food movie. Generally established as a romance around gourmet cuisine, the food movie became a success around the late 1980’s with hits such as Babette’s Feast and Tampopo.  Lately we have seen award winning movies such as Chocolat and the One Hundred Foot Journey.

These films are designed to make the spectator wish they were eating what they are limited to looking at. Most films leave you wanting to walk straight from the theatre to the nearest eatery. The food movie offers delectable temptations without the guilt of overeating. Even when the film uses spectacular looking dishes that can embrace a whole community as in Chocolat, the spectator is left with no scrumptious reward.

The double function of movies such as the three reviewed on Culinary Cinema, is apparent in the variant of the myth, giving us the thrill of watching the protagonist climb the ladder to success as well as the sense of morality we feel towards the main character. In the first part we see the cautionary tale, which highlights the hardship in achieving their goal; the second part contains the hallmarks of what success can bring. Like in movies such as The One Hundred Foot Journey, the storyline tends to end in the accomplishment of desire: the achievement of the goal or dream, a promotion or vindication of his industry. The allure of these movies symbolise and reflect on our own ambitions and fantasies to succeed, fulfilled by the character, whilst our emotions follow the journey. Alexis de Tocqueville, a French Political thinker, referred to this as ‘the charm of anticipated success’.

A substantial number of movies centre on legendary actors. This is symbolic of our dual satisfaction in feasting on the celebrity world, as well as watching their characters rise to fame. This satisfies our desire to have faith in the myth that hard work and compromise will yield success, and in turn, happiness, regardless of culture, gender, religion or sexual orientation.

Food films such as the One Hundred Foot Journey and Chef take a closer look at underlying themes, cultural dissimilarity and sub-textual meanings.

No film sub genre has been more successful than the food movie. Generally established as a romance around gourmet cuisine, the food movie became a success around the late 1980’s with hits such as Babette’s Feast and Tampopo.  Lately we have seen award winning movies such as Chocolat and the One Hundred Foot Journey.

These films are designed to make the spectator wish they were eating what they are limited to looking at. Most films leave you wanting to walk straight from the theatre to the nearest eatery. The food movie offers delectable temptations without the guilt of overeating. Even when the film uses spectacular looking dishes that can embrace a whole community as in Chocolat, the spectator is left with no scrumptious reward.

The double function of movies such as the three reviewed on Culinary Cinema, is apparent in the variant of the myth, giving us the thrill of watching the protagonist climb the ladder to success as well as the sense of morality we feel towards the main character. In the first part we see the cautionary tale, which highlights the hardship in achieving their goal; the second part contains the hallmarks of what success can bring. Like in movies such as The One Hundred Foot Journey, the storyline tends to end in the accomplishment of desire: the achievement of the goal or dream, a promotion or vindication of his industry. The allure of these movies symbolise and reflect on our own ambitions and fantasies to succeed, fulfilled by the character, whilst our emotions follow the journey. Alexis de Tocqueville, a French Political thinker, referred to this as ‘the charm of anticipated success’.

A substantial number of movies centre on legendary actors. This is symbolic of our dual satisfaction in feasting on the celebrity world, as well as watching their characters rise to fame.

This satisfies our desire to have faith in the myth that hard work and compromise will yield success, and in turn, happiness, regardless of culture, gender, religion or sexual orientation.