Like Water for Chocolate: Erotic Mexican Fable

Like Water for Chocolate, the new erotic Mexican film fable, is an impressive artistic achievement as well as light entertainment, likely to benefit from strong word of mouth.

The film’s title refers to the traditional Aztec means of making chocolate: the water must be at a furious boil to ensure the rich chocolate when the beans are thrown in. It’s used as a metaphor to describe a person who’s on the verge of boiling–actually sizzling.

An established screenwriter, Laura Esquivel reportedly completed her first novel, Como Agua Para Chocolate, in one year. Now in its eleventh edition, the book has become one of the most popular Mexican novels of all time. The film version, produced and directed by her husband, actor Alfonso Arau, is also destined to become a classic. Hopefully, it will also boost interest in Mexican cinema, curiously one of the most obscure in the U.S., despite (or perhaps because of) its geographical proximity.

Set on the Mexican-Texan border, circa 1910s, during the Mexican Revolution, the movie tells surrealistically the erotic and humorous tale of Tita (Lumi Cavazos), the youngest of three daughters of a nasty matriarch on a remote ranch. The handsome Pedro (played by Marco Leonardi, the adolescent hero of Cinema Paradiso) is passionately in love with Tita and wants to marry her.

There is an obstacle, however: Tradition dictates that the youngest daughter can never marry, because she has to cook and take care of her mother until she dies! To remain close to his true love, Pedro marries Tita’s oldest sister.

The resourceful Tita doesn’t give up: She establishes an unusual sensual relationship with Pedro through the delicious food she cooks for him. She is like a sorceress, spending most of the time in the kitchen, preparing her delicious meals which function as love potions. Tita’s tears leaven the wedding cake, which results in the collective crying of the guests. Her blood reddens the Cornish hens to such an extent that the entire family twitches with passionate heat after eating them. With her libido out of control, Tita’s sister Gertrudis runs out of the house in the nude, throwing herself into the arms of a soldier on a horseback! Later in the story, Gertrudis reappears as a tough general.

The dinner sequences in Like Water for Chocolate are as sumptuous and appetizing as those in the Oscar-winning Danish picture, Babette’s Feast. Director Arau takes his time in recording, in close-up, the reaction of each family member to Tita’s cooking. Two distinguished cinematographers, Emmanuel Lubezki and Steve Bernstein, have supplied the picture with a lush, surrealistic look.

This truly erotic and irreverent movie is destined to become a classic in the cinema of magic realism. Though it is only April, Like Water for Chocolate is one of the best films I have seen this year.