Monday, June 23, 2008

FIRE IN COCONUT CREAM: A Movie Review (Kailangan Kita a.k.a. "I Need You")

Intensely passionate. This will be a resident in my culinary film library, and, no matter what- will always be one of my favorite food films.

Claudine Barretto is one of the big actresses in the local industry. Pretty, sensuous, accomplished. Aga Muhlach is the face that has launched a thousand tons of oatmeal. And while the faces of his leading ladies – from Lea Salonga to Dayanara Torres- might change, his is a face that is so… so.. Jollibee.

Outside the context of movie technicalities, I enter into the film. With a little inclination on idealist views, I am looking at the Bicolana: the cook, the daughter, the person - who is personified in Lena Duran.

Carl (Aga Muhlach), is a New York- based accomplished celebrity chef with a large ego, who, just because he went to the States, insists that the Grand Canyon is more beautiful than the Mayon Volcano. Then there’s Lena (Claudine Barretto), a frail, magnolia- white Bicolana who is always in the kitchen. Carl comes home ahead of his bride, Lena’s elder sister Chrissy, who is trapped abroad for photo shoots. Carl stays with his fiancee’s family as he is supposed to have a big role in planning the wedding banquet.

The everyday life of the Durans unfold. It reminds me of barrio fiestas. Everyday at every meal, Lena seems to cook around five or so entrees for her parents and big brothers, and the guests who happen to come to their house. Very Filipino. It seems that Lena indeed has no time to put on a bra and brush her hair back not only because there was no one to lend her a hand in the kitchen but because she moves very, very slow. I don’t know what she is thinking while cooking all the time. But seeing her makes me want to tell her – as in Carl’s words- “I want to get you out of here!” – for there she is, an educated pretty lady, courageous enough (or is she) to deal with insurgents, but couldn’t talk to her father diplomatically (a la peace negotiation) what to do with her life. Maybe that is the reason why her father bosses her around because her attitude allows him to. For while her sister is a globe- trotting international model, I don’t know why is she dressed up like a chimay that even her sister’s fiancée mistook for one. She could have phoned Chrissy to give her some of those hand-me- downs, at least she’ll be cooking in a Prada…Also shows that Lena and Chrissy don’t have much of a sisterly bond.

Then there’s also something about Lena’s attitude that is so ironic, and I should agree with Papay when he said that they can live without her, and I think his point is this: if you wanted to serve your family because you love them, then why aren’t you happy doing it? Makes sense. You will also be wondering where have Lena’s self esteem and sense of happiness had gone. For godssake, you're cooking - smile little more!
Lena’s character is also meant to be a principled, passionate, sensuous cook- person as a whole. I was expecting to see that “spirit” in many scenes like when she and Carl were on a cooking duel. French cuisine vs. Filipino. Fancy vs. traditional. Coconut cream vs. canned cream. It was a scene I enjoyed most, admittedly, and I honestly applaud it. But then again, Lena lacks a little fire… that spice. She moves so slow! And even more as the movie played on, it doesn’t show when she grates the coconut. Coconut grating should be done with such physical intensity (or else you’d risk ruining the coconut flesh) and Lena was just too frail to do it- making me want to jump into the screen to do the grating and back to my popcorn afterwards. (Or she could have asked one of her big brothers to do the grating.) And when the drunk Carl tried to kiss her, she didn’t do anything about it. No resistance. Holy molly- it’s your sister’s fiancée- and he’s drunk! I could’ve thrown cold buckets of cold water to wake him up.

Nevertheless, the movie will keep you really going with a lot of surprises along the way. A confession of a priest. A father-and- son bonding (which I had no idea what happened afterwards). Liza Lorena, mamay, is the most beautiful woman in the film. Classic. And Johnny Delgado, papay, is the most natural – with that look of the eye, the throaty command, seems like he isn’t acting at all. Hats off!

Ergo, the scriptwriter /moviemaker are really some genius- they were able to stir a reaction like this from an ordinary movie viewer, plus the “buray ni ina!” occasional screech of Lena’s brothers which I haven’t heard in a long time. I couldn’t stop giggling.

I like the way the movie regarded Bicolano food. I haven’t seen yet any local movie that got into the “soul” of the food. But then with the soul, the spiciness of the laing, the fire of the Mayo Volcano, the versatility of the coconut cream, the wind in the fields, the happiness of the Bicolano dance- all must come together in the person’s package: Passionate. Loving. Free. Happy. Formless. Contented.

Watch the film to see if the characters ended up like that.

Ok, the rating. I have no other comment on the movie except that I was just too saturated with the drama. The kitchen was great, transported me into the familiar kitchens we had when I was growing up… the dried taro leaves, the clay pots, the coconuts. I should give it 95% - for despite the emotions, I was highly entertained. Besides, I like food movies so that’s a big plus. I like the love scene, too (eat your heart out, Titanic!) one of the best I have seen , local or foreign, the cinematography, music.
The other 5% went into the fact that again, my real life is already full of drama which makes me- not much of a big drama fan anymore- much less at situations where it is caused by excess baggage.
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