A meddlesome moppet helps her granny recover her cooking mojo in “Cinnamon,” a Mexican culinary film whose dramatization of the battle between traditional recipes and finicky nouvelle cuisine is cornier than a stack of tortillas. Though good-natured and eager to amuse, this modest, soupy family dramedy from first-time helmer Jordi Mariscal lacks technical and narrative finesse. Nonetheless, the yarn, which is told from a tyke’s perspective, boasts enough madcap farce to serve as a tasty morsel for kidfests and family channels.Ever since the death of her daughter, talented chef Tere Riva (Ana Martin) has retired from both her kitchen and El Molcajete, the restaurant she’s owned and run for ages. Family friends Beatriz (Gabriela Canudas) and Manolo (Guillermo Larrea) try to lift the joint out of the red by hiring Rosi Suarez (Norma Angelica), a Pais-trained chef who plans to revamp Tere’s traditional menu with such ghastly Gaul-Mex fusion experiments as crispy tortillas with foie gras and crepes in bean sauce. Tere’s young granddaughter, Maria (Isabel Yudice), just wants to get Grandma back in the cucina where she belongs. Maria’s chance comes when Jocelyn (Monica Dionne), the host of a gourmet TV program, reserves a table at El Molcajete to do a live-broadcast sampling of Rosi’s mole. As in so many culinary films, the highlight is a cooking contest, one in which Tere and Rosi try to impress Jocelyn with their mole recipes, with Maria craftily lending her granny a hand with a secret spice. The preparation process is filmed in prolonged, glossy closeups, with loud cinematic flourishes such as an amplified sound contrast between the rhythms of Tere grinding her spices in an antique rock mortar (after which the restaurant is named) and the shrill noise of the blender into which Rosi chucks everything with heartless efficiency. Pic’s fundamental flaw is that watching this climactic episode less than halfway through this story is the equivalent of being served the entree before hors d’oeuvres; nothing that follows this sequence equals or surpasses it in tension. The rest of “Cinnamon” is essentially a lame cat-and-mouse chase between Rosi’s nefarious brother (Carlos Cobos) and Maria, set in a dull hospital location. Thematically, the pic fails to convey the cultural significance of Tere’s faithfully preserved cooking methods; Mariscal could have contextualized the centerpiece mole within Mexico’s culinary heritage, purportedly one of the world’s oldest. Consequently, the film’s categorical dismissal of any kind of innovation (embodied by the vulgar Rosi) seems superficial and conservative. Another snag is that, as divine as the protags insist it tastes, the mole, a pureed brownish-black sludge poured over meat, doesn’t look that appetizing onscreen. As the villainous siblings, portly Angelica and Cobos rep the kind of boisterous, cartoonish comic duo that tickles young auds. Their larger-than-life personalities add oomph to the naturally winsome perfs of Yudice and two other young thesps. Attractive outdoor locations around Mexico City add a vital vibe to the otherwise generic sets, while the quality digital lensing lends the crayon-colored visual palette extra luster. Music is insistently vivacious; other tech credits are average.
A La Casa de Cine Co., Halo Studio (in Mexico) presentation of a La Casa de Cine Co. production. Produced by Yvette Gurza. Executive producers, Jordi Mariscal, Francisco Largesgoiti, Roberto Girault. Co-producers, Jordi Mariscal, Francisco Largesgoiti, Roberto Rochin. Directed by Jordi Mariscal. Screenplay, Marilu Acosta, Mariscal.
Camera (color, Arri widescreen, HD), Hector Ortega; editor, Pedro G. Gomez; music, Hector Ruiz; music supervisor, Ruiz; production designer/art director, Luis Antonio Ordonez; set decorator, Diana Sepulveda; costume designer, Lissete Barrios; sound (Dolby Digital 5.1); supervising sound editor, Uriel Esquenazi; re-recording mixers, Esquenazi; line producer, Yvette Gurza; assistant director, Hector Cruz; second unit camera, Felipe Perez-Burchard; casting, Ricardo Hernandez. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Culinary Cinema), Feb., 17, 2012. Running time: 101 MIN.
Isabel Yudice, Ana Martin, Norma Angelica, Carlos Cobos, Gabriela Canudas, Guillermo Larrea, Monica Dionne.