Movies: Tortilla Soup

I suppose it’s not very Irish to watch a Hispanic movie on St. Patrick’s Day, but what can I say? I’m not Irish (though I am wearing a green T-shirt with a beautiful golden dragon against a background of Celtic knotwork). Of course, I’m not Hispanic either, but having studied Spanish and lived in a Spanish-speaking country, I became particularly interested in their culture.

Tortilla Soup was recommended to me by a co-worker from Brazil. He was born in Argentina, so he speaks Spanish as well as Portuguese – and good English as well. He had watched the movie one weekend, and he loved the music in the movie. He told me he thought I would enjoy it also. (He knows I speak Spanish, and I have attempted to learn a few phrases of Portuguese also.)

Based on his comment, I was expecting music to be part of the storyline, rather than just background for the action (as it is in just about any movie). Instead, the art form that plays a lead role is cooking, as the movie is about a widowed master chef and his three grown daughters, who live with him. He is losing his sense of taste and smell – a very bad thing for a chef. And it seems that he is losing his daughters also, as they are trying to find their own way in life – an American way of life – without asking his advice and following the traditional ways.

My husband said it seemed like a Hispanic version of Fiddler on the Roof, with conflict between the traditional father and his daughters. As it is set in the present, the daughters have not only love interests but also careers. And in Tortilla Soup, there is also the question of a love interest for the father, who has been widowed for fifteen years.

I learned from that it is actually a Hispanic version of a Taiwanese film, Yin shi nan nu (Eat, Drink, Man, Woman). The screenplay of both movies was written by Ang Lee, and one viewer review pointed out that the dialog is almost word-for-word the same in both movies – except, I’m sure, for the obvious differences in language and cuisine.

If I had been told that the movie was about four women and their romantic interests, I doubt I would have been interested. The movie is rated PG-13 for sexual content, but the suggestive content was limited mostly to one scene, one comment in a later scene, and a brief scene showing a woman in only bra and panties emerging from a bedroom. Mostly, though, the movie is about people and their relationships – not only man and woman but father and daughter, the three sisters, and the chef’s friendship with his longtime partner at the restaurant.

Every one of the relationships seems strained nearly to breaking at times. I usually hate seeing people make fools of themselves on the screen, as I feel so embarrassed for them. But the struggles in these relationships are so typical of real life, and they are believable also in the way they are resolved. There’s not a happy ending to every relationship, but there is a happy ending to the movie.

I wonder if next I want to see Yin shi nan nu with English subtitles.

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