Cuisine's meaning in cinema

By Mary Bouli & Anna Mironova

What do you prefer today? Greek cinema or Greek food? Well, we have prepared for you an article on both. When we say “food in the cinema”, we usually mean the popcorn and crisps we buy in the cinema canteen.

But what about the food in the actual film? How does each director use food in order to build the plot? What are the differences between the use of food in the early stages of cinema and its use today?A good way to learn a language is through films and TV. Traditional dishes and meals are an important part of a country’s cultural heritage. In the old Greek cinema, food usually has a supportive role, highlighting the social status of the character. A typical case would be “Modern Cinderella”, especially the scene in which the Greek star Aliki Vougiouklaki is preparing chips. Suche scenes in the old Greek cinema show the elements that composed the Greek table at the time. Lentils, chickpeas, bean soup, giant white beans: that’s the typical family lunch. In the film, the table of the poor highlights issues such as poverty, lack of food, the need to emigrate.

On the other hand, a rich breakfast, fish, big parties, are for the well-off ones, just like one can tell in the film in which the famous actor Lambros Konstantaras, impersonating the character of Lambros Lambretas, a poor man that goes crazy after winning the lottery and spends a long period in the psychiatric clinic, while his family leads a luxurious life. Meals in this film include legumes, ham, elaborate dishes with as many ingredients as minced meat, rice and eggs, even desserts such as profiteroles and kataifi. In middle-class homes, there are servants that do the cooking, while food is often an object of ridicule for pseudo-aristocrats.

So, there is a lot of information we can extract regarding the eating habits of that period, which is not exactly the case for modern Greek cinema. Formalism in combination with the dominant globalisation of our era leads to a decrease -or elimination- of the intense traditional element.

The neo-formalist approach of the film theory turns the spectator into an active receiver of the film. Each scene is carefully organised so that the objects have their own role in the evolution of the film. Food is no exception to this rule. One of the most well-known formalists that used food as a symbol is Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein. In his film Battleship Potemkin, the mutiny starts because of worms found in bread. In the US cinema, one of the most well-known directors that pay a lot of attention to the use of food is Quentin Tarantino. It has been observed that in his films the person who eats is the most powerful one. Therefore, he identifies food with power.

cinema

In Greece, the tendence to exploit food so that the director can allude to more complex concepts is relatively recent. To be more precise, in the Weird Wave, the new wave of Greek cinema that started with Lanthimos’ Dogtooth, the Greek family is often presented gathered around a table having a meal. In contrast to the old Greek moovies, in which the family meals were characterised by shouting and laughing, now the atmosphere is cold and conversation minimal.

Tradition is being inverted and food symbolises a routine lacking even the slightest enjoyment. Of course, apart from the Weird Wave, there are lighter approaches, such as Vassilis Tselemengos’ Dangerous Cooking, where food symbolises the rivalry between two men trying to seduce the same woman. And in A Touch of Spice, a film by Tassos Boulmetis, the recipes of the grandfather are the axis around which all the history of Greek refugees from Turkey is presented.

We, therefore, conclude that the more cinema evolves the more food takes a symbolic importance. The obvious relation to wealth and poverty takes a secondary role and food becomes the symbol of rebellion or power. Following this path, the Greek cinema has also started to attribute new meanings to food. A piece of bread is no longer an object for covering everyday needs, but it has its own role in the plot of the film.

Written by Mary Bouli & Anna Mironova  |  Translated by Eirini Chatzikoumi

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