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Tortilla Soup

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Tortilla Soup

Starring: Hector Elizondo, Elizabeth Pena
Director: Maria Ripoll
Rated: R
RunTime: 92 Minutes
Release Date: August 2001
Genres: Comedy, Drama

*Also starring: Julio Oscar Mechoso, Constance Marie, Marisabel Garci, Raquel Welch, Jacqueline Obradors, Nikolai Kinski, Tamara Mello

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

"Closure" is a fashionable word nowadays. People want closure, meaning, they want to avoid the tension of having something hanging in the air, or, to be more specific, if you shave one side of your face, you're not going to feel comfortable until you finish the job. Jerry Bruckheimer believed that the audience would leave the theater tense after "Pearl Harbor" unless he threw in a feel-good ending that had nothing to do with the attack at Oahu. But here's an exception. Watch "Tortilla Soup" and you won't get that feeling of ahhhh. You'll leave the theater hungry, and that means the picture worked. Featuring food and menus created and designed by Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger of TV Food Network's "Too Hot Tamales," Maria Ripoll's "Tortilla Soup," which was inspired and based closely on Ang Lee's Oscar-nominated "Eat Drink Man Woman," stars the delicious food which is brought virtually and enticingly to our mouths by closeups from Lulu Zezza's food photography (though the principal camerawork is by Marian Sanchez de Antunano). If this film were in IMAX 3-D you'd have the added frustration of putting the gourmet morsels into your mouth without tasting a thing.

Without tasting a thing is the unusual plight of Hector Elizondo, the human star, in the role of Martin, an extraordinary chef who cannot taste what he prepares in his successful L.A. Mexican restaurant. He must rely on his sense of smell to knock out dishes that, we are told, are traditional to Mexican cuisine exclusively--but darned if I had ever seen mouthfuls like these in any Tex-Mex, Cal-Mex, or even the gourmet eateries in Mexico City's Zona Rosa. When we're not spending time watching Ms. Ripoll's version of The Mexican Chef, we're absorbed by the tribulations of the three daughters that Martin has brought up as a single parent, his wife having died some 15 years earlier. The three sisters are Chekhovian in their own way. While they have no desire to go to Moscow, they do want to have their own lives but are kept in tow by their traditional dad who uses food to glue the family together. The young women are so different from one another you'd scarcely know they are family.

Using a script by Tom Musca, Ramon Menendez and Vera Blasi, Maria Ripoll displays for us some closely bound people who, like a breakfast dish of chilaquiles can salsa roja look festive on the outside but are simmering within. A food movie containing more romance than "The Big Night" and none of the surrealism of "Like Water for Chocolate," "Tortilla Soup" allows us to look in on the lives of the family beauty: Carmen (Jacqueline Obradors), who must choose between taking a well-paid high-tech job in Barcelona and remaining in L.A. to serve as a chef in her dad's restaurant; Letitcia (Elizabeth Pena), a chemistry teacher, whose love for Jesus seems to exclude the possibility of men; and the flippant Maribel (Tamara Mello), whose plans for college seem ready to change after she meets the free-spirited Brazilian, Andy (Nikolai Kinski). The romantic interludes are mirrored in Martin himself, who is being hit upon by his motormouth neighbor, Hortensia (Raquel Welsh, who at 61 looks as good as she ever did).

"Tortilla Soup" is a family drama that's just made for ensemble acting, and we are not disappointed by any of the group who play so well together. Hector Elizondo, who has been in eighty-five film and TV productions, stands out for his ability to coax a thoroughly natural performance as patriarch who is never really as stern as his girls make him out to be and who must learn to hang loose and acquire some taste. If you'll excuse me now, I'm hungry.

Copyright 2001 Harvey Karten

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