Strong material has been wasted by inept filmmaking in Like Water for Chocolate. Sixth feature by Mexican actor-director Alfonso Arau (known to world audiences for roles in The Wild Bunch and Romancing the Stone) suffers from an in-your-face approach to direction, with the entire story told mostly in closeup. The film screams to opened up to northern Mexico’s sweeping landscape and the broader notions of story line.
Title can more aptly be translated as ‘boiling mad,’ since it refers to anger at the boiling point, like water for hot chocolate. Screenplay was penned by Arau’s wife, Laura Esquivel, based on her delightful bestseller combining ‘magic realism’ romance and recipe book.
Historical pic opens in the early 1900s on a large estate near the Texas border with the birth of the youngest of three sisters. Unfortunately, Tita (Lumi Cavazos) is part of a family tradition where the youngest daughter is denied matrimony in order to care for her mother in her old age. When Pedro Muzquiz (Marco Leonardi) comes to ask for Tita’s hand, he’s offered Tita’s elder sister Rosaura, and he accepts so that he can be close to Tita, who is the cook at the hacienda.
The film chronicles this sweeping, lifelong romance between an impossible love consummated only through the meals Tita prepares. She pours so much love into her quail-with-rose-petal dish that everyone at the table has an orgasm, and one of her sisters even catches on fire.
Art direction is beautiful, although denied scope, while rich cinematography is misused throughout.
[Version reviewed was director’s original 144-min. cut, preemed at the 1992 Guadalajara fest. Pic was subsequently released in Mexico at 114 mins. and in the U.S. at 106 mins.]