Like Water for Chocolate (1992)

Director: Alfonso Arau
Writer: Laura Esquivel
Cast: Lumi Cavazos, Marco Leonardi, Regina Torné, Mario Iván Martínez, Yareli Arizmendi, Claudette Maillé, Pilar Aranda, Ada Carrasco.

Just like with Brooklyn and Room, this is another film version of a novel that I have read this year. And just like Room, this film was adapted for the screen by the author of the novel on which it’s based. As opposed to the two movies, which came out just this year, Like Water for Chocolate (original title: Como agua para chocolate) was released in 1992. I have, since then, been aware of the film’s existence, but I always wanted to read the novel before watching the film version, although I do remember catching a couple of glimpses of the film adaptation on television a couple of times in the late 90s. Well finally this summer I did read the book, it was a gift for my birthday, and wrote on this blog about how much I really loved the novel and its powerful magical realism, which is a style I adore. In fact, Gabriel García Márquez is my favorite author. It took me a few months since reading the novel to come around and watch the film version, but finally the other night I found it on Netflix and gave it a go.

As is the case nearly every time, I will start off by saying that the book is infinitely better than the movie. While the movie does try to retain some of the magic that permeated the novel, it’s not always successful in its intents, in spite of the effort. The novel is so vivid in its juxtaposition of the fantastical alongside the realistic, and when the film attempts to do the same the magic doesn’t always come through. Perhaps this is in part due to the strong narrator of the novel and the weak narration present in the film version, which comes and goes and abandons the viewer at moments that should really be much clearer. Special effects aside also because of when the movie was produced, other attempts at expressing the fantastical are sometimes laughable. When one of the women in the movie is supposed to become obese and flatulent the actress depicting her is clearly just wearing some extra padding and lightly burps once or twice. The novel had so much humor, which was mostly missing from this version. Even the food, which is meant to be intoxicatingly decadent, is presented in less fantastical light and the cooking is ignored in lieu of the romantic drama.

The cast has its stronger and weaker performers. Thankfully the actress playing Tita, the protagonist, is expressive, beautiful, and superb. Lumi Cavazos shows depth and is forced into a roller coaster of emotions and performs luminously, so much of the film’s success is thanks to what she is capable of emoting, even when what is occurring around her reads as overly choreographed and awkward. Tita’s mother Mamá Elena (Regina Torné) is also very good, her brutality and meanness of spirit ring true, and she inhabits the part of a stern and controlling mother to great effect. Marco Leonardi plays Tita’s paramour Pedro in such a wooden way that at times I wanted to check his pulse to assure myself that he was indeed alive and not just a prop. The less said about Dr. John Brown (Mario Iván Martínez) and his bizarre approach to acting and off facial mannerisms and laughable reaction shots, the better.

It may be not so fair to evaluate a film released over two decades ago and expect a masterpiece, but when others stand the test of time and the novel, which came out in 1989, is so good, I guess I was hoping for something just a bit more whimsical and delectable. Like a delicious piece of chocolate coating my mouth.

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