A Double-Sided Fable "Estomago: A Gastronomic Story" By Antonio Santamarina

in 53rd Valladolid International Film Festival

by Antonio Santamarina

Awarded by the Espiga de Oro (the major prize), the Young Award, and also with prizes for best young director and best actor, for Joao Miguel, Estomago: A Gastronomic Story (Estômago) has become the great winner at the 53rd edition of the Valladolid International Film Festival. It has also been refuting all the generalizations which are usually applied to comedies as not good options for this kind of cinematographic competition. The film, that also won the Best Director prize at the last Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival, is the first feature fiction by Marcos Jorge, after having worked as assistant director, editor and scriptwriter in Italy and having continued his career in Brazil, directing shorts and advertising films and documentaries, at the same time as having started an interesting creative work as a video artist.

Inspired by a tale written by Lusa Silvestre (also the author of the script, together with Cláudia da Natividade, Gabriele Muccino and director Marcos Jorge), Estomago is structured in two parts that emerge from two different stories, undeniably tied by its protagonist Raimundo Nonato into parallel and mixed facts, but taking place in two different times and places. Everything begins when the main character, a poor and uneducated peasant with a suitcase as his only possession, arrives in a provincial Brazilian town in order to find a job and something to eat. Being shy and ignorant, it is only because of his gift as a cook that he progresses from working at a wretched bar into being the chef of a first class Italian restaurant. But love knocks at his door in the meantime and finally becomes a cruel destiny for him.

Losing innocence is the main conductor of this first segment where Raimundo (just like old rogues) learns about the real value of money and food (the core of both his social climbing and his sexual intercourses with Iria, the greedy prostitute) but mostly about power and swindle. Combining satire on both personal and professional relationships with a touch of fable and a black sense of humor, the second part of the film explains Raimundo’s unstoppable social climbing, thanks to what he has been learning and his innate kitchen talents at the packed prison cell, where he has ended up after an affair of ignorance, jealously and violence.

The clever aspect of the script lies in successfully interweaving both the disparate stories, by portraying Raimundo’s rise as reflected by a game of mirrors. It is indeed the space where innocence and evil face each other, the same where the protagonist’s life slips from complete misfortune into the ultimate steps of Brazilian society; prisoners, above whom he starts again to reign and, by the way, also slightly confirming that cleverness wins strength.

An excellent bunch of main characters (leaded by the impassive Joao Miguel) and a pertinent gallery of supporting ones help to thicken a film as claustrophobic as its protagonist’s destiny, with the settings doing the same (kitchens with no windows, hotel rooms, prison cells). The effective and restrained mise-en-scène, pacing the same rhythm as Raimundo’s cooking fantasies, like back and forth diverse travelling at the last banquet and, ironically, the practical lesson in close shots on the origin of gorgonzola cheese prove, perfectly frame the aim of the story. That is, the tale of what finally becomes an ode to intelligence and life conveyed by the powerful facts of sex, gastronomy and power, uniting for serious and funny life matters. Nevertheless, it is as if someone decides to mix salt and sweet, acid and bitter, cold and hot, for creating new contrasting flavors which can show the human side of the inhuman… and vice versa.