Hawaii International Film Festival / You don’t have to venture too far out in the world to know that love is not the only international language. Food is, too, which is why it’s so nice to see that this year’s Hawaii International Film Festival lineup is, ahem, peppered with flicks that boast a culinary bent. The festival runs October 14-24, but we were able to catch previews of a few of the choicest cuts:
Kings of Pastry
Be forewarned: this is no Top Chef: Just Desserts. “Kings of Pastry” makes the TV competition look like a PTA bake sale. It’s also a portrait in obsession, the pursuit of perfection and professional cred. The documentary follows three pastry chefs as they train and compete for the Meilleur Ouvrier de France, the country’s highest honor for the profession. It’s a competition that takes place every four years, each time with only about sixteen invited contestants, and only a fraction of whom actually earn the status of “MOF.”
The film follows three competitors–who live in Chicago, Luxembourg and France–as they train for and participate in the grueling three-day event. It’s a compelling story with no villains. You really want them all to win the prize, which only adds to the tension; at any moment, something could go wrong. Someone could trip. A sculpture could break. Time could run out.
What makes this film truly fascinating, however, is not the many components of the competition (which includes plated desserts, cream puffs, a sugar sculpture, a chocolate sculpture, lollipops and a wedding cake) or the creativity shown in each of the pieces. It’s the lengths to which the competitors go in order to prepare for the exam: years of training and coaching from current MOFs, “dry runs” of the entire three-day competition and lengthy criticisms of minutia that would be lost on the average diner. In the end, a few competitors win, and others do not. But as an outside observer, just completing the competition is an amazing accomplishment, and it’s thrilling to watch.
84 minutes; in French with English subtitles
Sat., 10/16, 7:45pm and Sun., 10/17, noon, Dole Cannery A.
Cooking Up Dreams
Is Peruvian food the Next Great Cuisine? Perhaps it already is. After all, we have Peru to thank for potatoes, peanuts, lima beans and quinoa, just to name a few indigenous plants that have become staples the world over. Cooking Up Dreams explores the diversity and evolution of Peru’s cuisine across time and space. It takes an outside-in approach, starting with an around-the-world jaunt to illustrate various expressions of Peruvian food: an expat couple cooking for friends in New York, restaurateurs in London, Paris and Amsterdam and a cutting-edge food conference in Madrid. In each of these, we see food as the medium for various functions, from personal identity and familiarity, to cultural ambassadorship, to an introduction to the professional food world.
Perhaps fittingly, the film opens with Peruvian food out of context, or rather, transplanted into the melting pot outside of its native land. The filmmakers then go deep into the country itself to explore the ancient roots and traditions that have evolved in parallel to its contemporary evolution and interpretation. We see the pachamanca, both a cooking technique and the dish itself that’s made by layering potatoes, beans, corn and meat inside a pyramid of heated stones, which is then knocked down and swaddled to trap heat and cook the food inside. We see the touching Day of the Dead ritual of cooking the deceased’s favorite food and eating it “with them” at the grave. And we see how food brings people together in the aftermath of the devastating 2007 earthquake in Pisco. This is a movie that, yes, makes one hungry, but also serves as a reminder to the importance of food traditions–both ancient and contemporary–in our lives.
75 minutes; in Spanish with English subtitles.
Thu., 10/21, 8:15pm, Dole Cannery B and Fri., 10/22, 4:15pm, Dole Cannery A
Politics divides people just as much as it unites, and sometimes it does both within a lifetime. Apart Together is one such story, in which Yu-E and her husband-to-be, Liu, are separated at the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949; she in Shanghai and he in Taiwan, with no communication between them for decades. Meanwhile, life goes on, and Yu-E and Liu each marry and establish their own families. The film picks up the story, when Liu and other soldiers on Taiwan are finally given permission to return to Shanghai. Liu and Yu-E, once lovers but now strangers, are reunited awkwardly. The story that unfolds is one of love, regret, loyalty and honor. And although this movie is not about food, per se, the kitchen and dinner table play important roles; it’s where celebrations, mournings (of sorts), and discussions unfold, and it’s where we get the clearest view into the heart of each character. As Yu-E’s husband says, “If you don’t eat, it’s over.” Here, though, it’s not just about eating, but also about sharing the table and partaking amongst family. How true.
93 minutes; in Mandarin with English subtitles.
Sun., 10/17, 12:15pm, Dole Cannery D and Mon., 10/18, 1pm, Dole Cannery C
Other foodie films of note:
The Butcher, the Chef, and the Swordsman follows three men who each take possession of a mythical blade in a tale of love, ambition, and revenge.
95 minutes; in Mandarin with English subtitles.
Sun., 10/24, 2pm, Dole Cannery D
Rinco’s Restaurant A heartbroken woman returns to her childhood home to open an unusual restaurant, with surprises along the way.
119 minutes; in Japanese with English subtitles.
Fri., 10/15, 8pm and Sun., 10/17, 3pm, at Dole Cannery C
Sakawao Decides Another homecoming tale, this time with the title character taking over (and resurrecting) her father’s clam-packing business.
112 minutes; in Japanese with English subtitles.
Thu. 10/14 at 6:30pm, and Fri, 10/15, 3:30pm, Dole Cannery F
Taipei Exchanges Two sisters run a coffee shop with an extra service; they act as arbiters of barters among their customers.
82 minutes; in Mandarin with English subtitles.
Sun., 10/17, 12:45pm, Dole Cannery C, and Tue., 10/19, 6:15pm, Dole Cannery A