If one possible future for how we’ll watch films involves everyone sitting at home in front of giant televisions, another has to take into account places like the Enzian Theater in Maitland, FL, base of the Florida Film Festival. The Enzian’s a comfy multi-tiered cinema and event space with couches and table seating, a full menu, waitstaff and a bar outside under mossy old oaks, ideal for post-credits chats over cocktails.
It’s a place that, like my beloved Alamo Drafthouse in Austin or the Ragtag Cinema in Columbia, MO (both home to their own annual festivals), is both a film venue and a hangout joint, and sitting down to a screening there is the kind of thing that can have you hoping, by god, maybe there is life in communal moviegoing yet. In tune with the Enzian’s dinner-and-a-flick style, the Florida Film Festival, which wraps up on Sunday, has a distinct foodie vibe, with events featured guest chefs and sustainable farming chats paired with a program of culinary-themed movies.
The best of those was “I Am Love,” which, on second viewing, still went down awfully well, especially over a potato pizza and glass of wine. Luca Guadagnino’s lusciously told tale of how the wife of a wealthy Milanese blue blood falls in love with a younger man plays like a Douglas Sirk film on ecstasy. Tilda Swinton (speaking Italian!) paces a gilt and teak villa like an exotic bird unjustly caged, supervising servants and smoothing over domestic dramas until a friend of her son’s, a chef, captivates her with a dish of perfectly prepared prawns. And while food plays a major role in “I Am Love” — it may be the first film in which a secret is undone by the preparation of a soup — all of its senses are heightened, all kisses are moist, all sunlight golden, all boardrooms gleaming chrome and all family gatherings singing with dark wire-taut tension. It’s so operatically sweeping that it flirts with ridiculousness while repelling all irony — how can you giggle at anything so unabashedly alive?
“I Am Love” was paired with “Mid August Lunch” as part of an Italian-themed evening, with a reception in between during which the crowd sipped Chianti and nibbled on giant hunks of parmesan. Gianni Di Gregorio’s film about a financially strapped middle-aged man (played by the director) who ends up taking in his neighbors’ aging female relatives while they head off for vacation with their wives or mistresses is a more conventional light comedy that nevertheless maintains an interesting, acid undertone.
While the beleaguered Gianni cooks (seemingly effortless mouthwatering meals) and shops for his elderly charges, they refuse to just stay put, fighting over the television, sneaking out for drinks or a bite of a forbidden pasta dish, and gossiping into the break of day. The pleasure these women come to take in each other’s company is balanced by the ridiculous and sometimes tragic figure cut by Gianni who, aproned, forced to sleep in a deck chair and constantly self-medicating with white wine, rattles around a Rome emptied out of everyone else except tourists and fellow unfortunates.
Elsewhere, the food and film pairing was a little more rickety. The good-hearted, rough-around-the-edges documentary “What’s ‘Organic’ About Organic?” doesn’t break any new ground in the growing food activism genre, but does offer beautiful, brightly colored footage of various farms and dairies between its talking head interviews, idyllic enough to sway you towards shelling out more for organic goods at the farmers or supermarket (though if those weren’t already your leanings, you probably wouldn’t be watching the film).
Canadian/Indian comedy “Cooking with Stella” could do with more of the culinary and less of the self-loathing liberalism — it’s a strange celebration of getting ripped off by savvy locals. Directed by Dilip Mehta (brother of Deepa Mehta), the film tracks the hijinks that ensue when a well-meaning couple end up being transferred from Ottawa to the Canadian High Commission in New Delhi.
Wife Maya (Lisa Ray) works as the diplomat, while husband Michael (Don McKellar), a chef, stays home with the baby and their new servant Stella (Seema Biswas), who’s made it a tradition, in her three decades of service for various foreign nationals, to rob her unsuspecting employers blind. Michael woos Stella into teaching him about South Indian cooking, and the scenes of the two together are sweet, but quickly lost in an overstuffed plot involving a high-minded new nanny and a staged kidnapping. Though the film tries to play everything that happens for laughs, the fact that what the would-be Robin Hoods do is simply reprehensible makes it impossible to root for them and means the ending is uncomfortable instead of upbeat as intended. And Michael and Maya, who alternately fret about having servants, then fret about having too much or too little to do because of those servants, come off at best as naive and at worst hopelessly privileged and culturally ignorant.