Food as culture, food as language

Top picks from the Flatirons Food Film

In Pixar's 'Ratatouille,' an animated film about a Parisian rat, Remy (voiced impeccably by comic Patton Oswalt), dreams of being the world’s greatest chef.

It would be low-hanging fruit to open this column with a declaration along the lines of: “The Flatirons Food Film Festival returns for a fifth course!” But who are we to eschew the tastiness of low-hanging fruit? It’s probably sagging with all that extra flavor anyway.

Yes, the Flatirons Food Film Festival (FFFF) is back and this year’s lineup of movies, meals and chefs (Frank Bonanno anyone?) looks to be a symphony for the senses. (For the full FFFF schedule, read Nibbles, page 49.)

Whipped up by founder and director, Julia Joun, FFFF runs Sept. 27–Oct. 1 and screens nine cinematic gems, each one capturing the beauty of food, the pleasure of the process and the time-altering, memory-charged effect of a dish made so perfectly it can bend time and space. That may sound highfalutin, but isn’t that the goal of every work of art?

That quest for perfection forms the heart of Pixar’s Ratatouille (Canyon Theater, Sept. 30 10:30 a.m.), an animated film about a Parisian rat, Remy (voiced impeccably by comic Patton Oswalt), who dreams of being the world’s greatest chef. Standing in his way, Anton Ego (voiced by the great Peter O’Toole), a food critic who wields his column the way a samurai master wields his sword.

As it is with all great Pixar movies, and this is one of their best, Ratatouille speaks to audiences of all ages, showing young children that there is more to a plate of food than macaroni and cheese with cut-up hot dogs while reminding adults that food is much more than simple sustenance and cheap cravings. It may be hard to say exactly what food is, but as Remy and Ego know, the best things in life cannot be described, only experienced. To borrow a line from another movie obsessed with cuisine: “To eat good food is to be close to God.”

BIG NIGHT, Minnie Driver, Stanley Tucci, Tony Shalhoub, Isabella Rossellini, 1996, (c) Samuel Goldwyn/courtesy Everett Collection

Those words come from Big Night (Muenzinger Auditorium, Oct. 1 1:30 p.m.), the story of two immigrant brothers, Primo (Tony Shalhoub) and Secondo (Stanley Tucci, who also writes and directs), trying to keep their failing restaurant afloat. Crass consumerism, picky eaters and an uneducated clientele are winning the battle, but Primo knows that if he holds fast to his values, he may yet win the war -— if only spiritually.

In some alternate universe, Primo and Remy would be fast friends and open the world’s greatest French/Italian restaurant. And if we can loop in Taiwanese Master Chef Chu’s (Sihung Lung) Sunday banquets from Ang Lee’s Eat Drink Man Woman (Muenzinger, Oct. 1 4 p.m.), we’ll never need to go out for dinner again.

All of the movies screening at this year’s Flatirons Food Film Festival are strong offerings, but Ratatouille, Big Night and Eat Drink Man Woman express food not merely as a consumable but as a culture, as a language. Here, the right dish acts as an ambassador, extending the olive branch from one to another and explaining in the most accessible way possible who they are and where they came from.

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