'Mediterranean Food'

Comedies about the sensual delights of food dished up by sexy femme chefs are nothing new, but the same can't be said about films that extol the joys of an unabashed menage a trois.

Comedies about the sensual delights of food dished up by sexy femme chefs are nothing new, but the same can’t be said about films that extol the joys of an unabashed menage a trois. Vet writer-director Joaquin Oristrell, a major force in the post-Franco rebirth of Spanish comedy, has skillfully blended the two genres in “Mediterranean Food,” a heady, fast-moving screwball romance and a paean to the megawatt star power of beauteous Olivia Molina (daughter of Angela). A good distribution bet, this sparkling romantic comedy could lure both Anglo and Latino auds Stateside.

Like Almodovar’s Angela Molina-starring “Live Flesh,” “Mediterranean Food” opens in medias res with the protagonist’s birth. The expectant mother (Carmen Balague), shepherded out of her restaurant by diners and staff, is whisked to the hospital on the back of hubby’s (Roberto Alvarez) scooter. The baby quickly grows up in the kitchen of her parents’ eatery, progressing from pint-size vendor of oddball sandwiches on the beach (sardines and chocolate, anyone?) to full-bodied, sultry Sofia (Olivia Molina), whose swoon-inducing culinary creations become the restaurant’s major asset.

Oristrell also introduces two boys — one protective, one challenging — who become the men in her life. Loyal, faithful Toni (Paco Leon), a rising real estate broker, offers marriage and kids, while dangerous, sexy Frank (Alfonso Bassave), a maitre d’ and manager, stokes her dream of becoming a great chef.

Initially, Sofia chooses domesticity with Toni, tending to her brood while continuing to cook. But Toni’s increasingly bourgeois lifestyle and his demands that she stop working drive her to follow Frank to an upscale dining spot, where she begins her apprenticeship in the rarefied world of haute cuisine.

Toni doesn’t give up easily, and soon Sofia is juggling (and sleeping with) both men, the uneasy triangle eventually resolving itself into a blithe, spontaneous three-way partnership in bed and in joint ownership of a new establishment, “Sofia’s.”

Oristrell brings an energetic exuberance to the shenanigans of his characters, who tumble about like overactive puppies, equally physical in passion and in anger. Free from sniggering archness, the menage a trois provides internal balance, ensuring domestic tranquility and maintaining equilibrium between business (Toni’s domain), public relations (Frank’s) and art (Sofia’s).

Olivia Molina is a delight as a vibrant, self-determining woman who brings out the fun-loving best in everyone, greatly aided by Oristrell’s zingy, nonmoralistic script and light-as-air direction.

Mediterranean Food

Spain

Production

A Messidor Films production with the participation of TVE, TVC, Mes Films. (International sales: RTVE, Madrid.) Produced by Marta Esteban, Gerardo Herrero. Directed by Joaquin Oristrell. Screenplay, Oristrell, Yolanda Garcia Serrano.

Crew

Camera (color), Albert Pascual; editors, Aixala, Domi Parra; music, Salvador Niebla, Jose Mas "Kitflus"; art director, Llorenc Miquel; costume designer; Maria Reyes; sound (Dolby Digital), Salva Mayolas, Ricard Casals. Reviewed at Spanish Cinema Now, New York, Dec. 17, 2009. (Also in Palm Springs Film Festival.) Running time: 102 MIN.

With

Olivia Molina, Paco Leon, Alfonso Bassave, Carmen Balague, Roberto Alvarez, Jesus Castejon.
With: Olivia Molina, Paco Leon, Alfonso Bassave, Carmen Balague, Roberto Alvarez, Jesus Castejon.
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