The Food, The Film, The Artist

A quirky series celebrates Latin food and culture on the big screen

When the concept of food is brought up in film, the classic Twilight Zone episode "To Serve Man" cannot be ignored. In it seemingly benign space aliens befriend humans and convince them to visit their planet. The scheme is busted when a decoding buff discovers that the book left behind by the alien leader, To Serve Man, is actually a cooking manual and the friendly aliens are really Homo sapiens rustlers. Aaaaaahhhh.

Like Babette's Feast or Like Water for Chocolate, "To Serve Man" is a prime example of how concepts of food are used in cinema. Film buffs will get a chance to view films about food and culture in "Cities, Tastes, and Cinema," a month-long series of films with gastronomy and sustenance as a central theme. Although no human-eating aliens will be featured, the series is a response to Catalan artist Antoni Miralda's fascination with food, which borders on the obsessive.

For Miralda gustatory fare not only provides sustenance to humans, it also defines man as a social and cultural creature. For years Miralda has been cultivating a mosaic of our culinary selves in large-scale and intricate public exhibits, and in his online Food Culture Museum.

The mini film festival is an extension of Miralda's installation, "Tastes and Tongues: 13 Cities," currently at the Centro Cultural Español. The exhibit includes a series of plates on which Miralda inscribes the street grids of cities such as Managua, Barcelona, Montevideo, and Lima, as well as a detailed description of regional recipes and gustatorial customs of each town.

Through May, the Tower Theatre on Calle Ocho presents films from seven of the thirteen cities Miralda depicts in his show. Ranging from the gritty to the absurd, the series includes cinematic offerings from Havana, Santo Domingo, Buenos Aires, Madrid, Barcelona, Montevideo, and Mexico City. To further blur the line between art and reality, chefs from each country will be in the lobby serving up samples of the cities' cuisines.

Although the series kicked off last Wednesday, you can still join the gustatory film fest Saturday with Madrid's La Colmena, José Luis Dibildos's 1982 feature that takes place in the café of Dona Rosa. The film is a bittersweet portrait of 1943 Spain in which hunger and desperation are constant. Instead of food and coffee, Dona Rosa's destitute guests order agua con bicarbonato(water with bicarbonate). Despite its grim setting, the film proves misery cannot defeat the human spirit. If the theme may seem dour, perhaps a serving of tapas in the lobby will brighten the experience.

The following Wednesday, May 15, the series screens El Vinedo (The Vineyard), a mystery set in Montevideo in which a journalist investigates the disappearance of a boy who wanders into a vineyard. Made in 2000 by director Esteban Schroeder, El Vinedo offers Miami film buffs a rare sampling of Uruguay. No telling if the Uruguayan delicacy morsilla dulce (sweet blood sausage served with orange rinds, raisins, and walnuts) will be served.

The series continues May 22 with the absurd little gem La Nona, a dark comedy set in 1970s Buenos Aires. The film depicts a family struggling with the insatiable appetite of their ancient grandmother during a time, much like today, when people are poor and food is a rare commodity. The film tells of the family's desperate measures -- from marrying off the 104-year-old Nona to abandoning her in a restaurant -- to take care of their problem.

Cuban master Tomás Gutiérrez Alea's La Ultima Cena (The Last Supper) culminates the series. The film, about a sugar baron who emulates Jesus Christ by washing the feet of his slaves and teaching them about Christianity, is sure to stir up controversy in the heart of Little Havana. A pan con lechon may ease the tension from the lines of Fidel-hating hecklers sure to line the doorway.

The screening of the food films is the first event to be mounted at the Tower since Miami-Dade Community College took over the theater May 1. While you may not have to contend with hungry space aliens, you might get a chance to explore a culture alien to your own little world.

"Cities, Tastes, and Cinema" takes place at 8:00 p.m. on selected Wednesdays and Saturdays through May at the Tower Theatre, 1508 SW Eighth St. Tickets cost six dollars for general admission, three dollars for MDCC students and CCE members.

"Tastes and Tongues: 13 Cities" is exhibited at Centro Cultural Español, 800 Douglas Rd., Coral Gables. For more information about the films and the exhibit call 305-448-9677.

 
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