DVD Like Water For Chocolate
This love story, based on a popular novel by Laura Esquivel and directed by Alfonso Arau, was a huge hit in both Mexico and the USA. In fact, it was the most profitable Spanish language film in the USA at the time and received ten Ariel awards from the Mexican Academy of Motion Pictures. The storyline cleverly knits together idealised notions of love, tragedy, humour and the supernatural, against the backdrop of the Mexican revolution of 1910-20.
Tita (Lumi Cavazos) is a young woman from a respectable family in provincial Mexico. Being the youngest of three daughters, she is forbidden from marrying and is expected to look after her mother until she dies. This tradition has been enforced in the family for generations, but it comes under threat when Pedro Muzquiz, a local youth, asks for her hand in marriage.
Mama Elena, Tita’s tyrannical mother, flatly refuses to allow it, but she suggests that if Pedro is keen to find a wife, he could marry her other daughter, Rosaura. Pedro agrees reluctantly, only so that he could remain close to Tita. The marriage is a sham from the beginning, with Rosaura trying to win her husband’s affection, while he finds different ways of showing his love for her sister.
The family situation becomes increasingly tense as a result of Mama Elena’s reign of terror, the arrival of Pedro and Rosaura’s baby, the disappearance of Gertrudis (the eldest daughter), and Tita’s nervous breakdown. As she is recovering away from the home, she is faced with a difficult decision – should she hold on the clandestine relationship with Pedro, or does she give happiness a chance with a new man on the scene?
Like Water For Chocolate explores a variety of themes, such as personal development – Tita transforms from a naïve and submissive girl to an assertive woman; tradition and social conventions; violence – within the home and in the wider world (Mama Elena and the Mexican Revolution); and different types of love. Love is idealised and exalted to an almost spiritual level, especially romantic love – although other types also feature, such as platonic, sibling and maternal love (the servant, Nacha, is a mother figure to Tita).
The feminist-minded may not appreciate some of the implications of the film.
The film clearly deals with some deep topics, but, at times, it is difficult to take it entirely seriously. Some parts are quite over-the-top, to the point of being farcical, such as Rosaura’s digestive problems and Tita eating matches near the end of the film. Some could see this as a drawback, but it could be argued that it adds to the quality of the film – depending on how the audience chooses to view the film. If the viewer chooses to see it something similar to a soap opera, then it works brilliantly – the entire thing becomes an emotional roller-coaster, with a mixture of sad, happy, funny and downright bizarre moments. The soundtrack complements this greatly. A variety of melancholy and upbeat instrumental music takes the audience through each event.
It is also worth considering that the culture of Mexico and Latin America, in general, tends to be more intense and passionate, which is reflected in the film. Magic realism (i.e. the supernatural mixed with the ordinary) is also a popular theme, but it doesn’t feature as heavily in English language cinema. For those not used to it, it may make the film less believable, but it can’t be denied that it adds colour to an otherwise depressing storyline. It is the magic realism that distinguishes this as a positive romance rather than a tragedy.
A definite strong point of Like Water For Chocolate is the characters. Each of them is well developed and has their own unique personality. Gertrudis and Nacha are particularly likeable. With the others, there isn’t a clear-cut distinction between good and bad. There are no obvious heroes or villains. For example, while Mama Elena is an unpleasant character, we also feel some sympathy towards her, because of her secret – she herself is a victim of society. Pedro is seemingly a hero, but he also has a selfish streak, which becomes clear when he asks Tita to run away with him, leaving behind his wife and child.
The feminist-minded may not appreciate some of the implications of the film. It seems to confirm that the way to a man’s heart is, indeed, through his stomach, and implies that Rosaura is less of a woman because she is unable to cook or breastfeed. However, it needs to be remembered that the film is set between 1910 and 1920, in a very conservative society.
Like Water For Chocolate needs to be watched with an open mind. It is very enjoyable, if it is appreciated for what it is – a rather unrealistic, but very moving and endlessly entertaining love story.
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