Having premiered in San Sebastian’s Culinary Zinema and passed through Canada’s Devour Film Festival, Festimania Films’ latest documentary -after Pedro Peiras’ ‘LA QueenCiañera’ – introduces the viewer to Catalan cuisine through an almost baroque structure that pivots around its two main characters, Raül Balam and his mother, Carmen Ruscalleda, the latter being one of the heavy weights of the culinary scene about to step down, the first following her steps while leaving behind a past of addiction.
The documentary, directed by Angel Parra, attempts to balance many balls in the air never losing sight of human empathy as its glances of family dynamics and the long reach of an addiction shine through a clean portrayal of the arduous work ethic required to retain three Michelin stars. Variety talked to Parra.
The film is a culinary documentary that, above else, is interested in the lives of its characters. What was its genesis? How involved was Raül in that process?
The film stems from when we met Carmen Ruscalleda, Raül’s mother, whom we interviewed for a previous project: “Soul” with Eneko Atxa and Jiro Ono, a mix between Basque and Japanese cuisine. Being a referent of Catalan cuisine and having a kitchen in Japan meant she could guide us through the customs of Japanese dishes. From that point on, we wanted to do something with her and it just coincided that her three Michelin stars restaurant being about to close. In the projects in which she was involved, we saw that there was an interesting project with her son Raül Balam, which was the restaurant ‘Moments’ on Paseo de Gracia in Barcelona, and that’s when we met Raül. When treating him personally and seeing his personal and professional development, we soon realized that he had quite an interesting subject to address, and we saw that he was willing to tell it.
The documentary feels thematically intersected, jumping very quickly from one theme to the other, always maintaining the mother and son relationship as a backdrop while mapping out the Catalan culinary scene. Was this a design or did it appear on the editing?
A lot of it comes together in editing of course because with the material we had recorded, and now with COVID-19, all the shooting that we had planned were stopped. Everything was paralyzed and there was no way to continue. It was then that we realized that the dramatic weight carried by the mother was already there, and we wanted to reflect it so that the viewer would be aware that Carmen Ruscalleda is indeed Raúl’s mother, she is a very important culinary reference and is a person who really marks the behavior of Raül. In his kitchen and in his work he is largely reflected and motivated by his mother, by the relationship he has with her.
And Catalan Cuisine?
Portraying Catalan cuisine, of course we play with important figures such as Ferrán Adrià who is a big reference, and of that family circle. He, along with Carmen Ruscalleda and Joan Roca, created what is the emotional techno kitchen. They are three basic pillars in Catalan cuisine, And then we also wanted to represent Hispania, which is another restaurant that has had a lot of weight win Catalan cuisine, a family restaurant with a very strong tradition where the most important people who have come to Catalonia have gone to eat. We wanted to see how the origins of Carmen Ruscalleda and Raul differ from Ferrán Adrià’s.
At the same time, you deal with addiction as one of Raül’s core battles….
We realized that he wanted to turn the page, to recount what he had suffered and he had the strength to tell it and make it public. On the one hand, to unburden himself and, on the other, to help others. It arose in a very natural way, given the trust between us, and took in how his mother and family have managed to help him. It’s something that many people do not dare to talk about simply because of the problems that you may encounter, or what other people might think or say, and that it’s a fairly common problem.