A decent Blu-ray release of this Mexican magical-realist romantic drama
Like Water For Chocolate Film Review
Over the last decade, Mexican film-makers like Alfonso Cuarón, Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro González Iñárritu have garnered global accolades for a slew of commercially victorious movies in English.But when Alfonso Arau's Like Water For Chocolate was released in 1992, the Mexican wave proper was yet to break, and the actor-turned-director stuck to squarely Mexican material by adapting his ex-wife and first-time author Laura Esquivel's eponymous hit novel (cosily subtitled 'A Novel in Monthly Installments with Recipes, Romances and Home Remedies'). The title refers to a Mexican expression 'como agua para chocolate' describing the correct water temperature for (hot) chocolate; a simile for either passion or anger - or both. Genre-wise, it could be broadly summed-up as a 'magic-realist romantic drama' - magic-realism being the notably Latin American literary genre in which the absurd and surreal is accepted and incorporated into rational everyday scenarios. In this film, food acts as both a magical catalyst and a symbol for characters' actions and feelings. Viewers will be reminded of foodie films such as the superior Danish Babette'sFeast and the fluffy Chocolat.
The plot, such as it is, centres around illicit lovers Tita and Pedro on a Rio Grande ranch at the dawn of the Mexican Revolution. Food-loving Tita (Lumi Cavazos) is forbidden by her cold and cruel mother from marrying her girlhood crush Pedro (smouldering Italian Marco Leonardi from Cinema Paradiso), due to the Mexican tradition of the youngest daughter eschewing marriage for lifelong care of the mother. To be near Tita, Pedro marries her dumpy sister Rosaura; henceforth feisty Tita expresses her feelings through food, i.e. turning Pedro's gift of roses into a delectable dish that turns all the diners' thoughts dirty, and spitefully feeding Rosaura food that makes her fat and farty. Along the way there are deaths and births and feasts, woven together by nonchalant fantasy scenes, food-fuelled erotic moments (the bread-making scene gives the Ghost pottery scene a run for its money), and a tinny made-for-TV soundtrack that would not be out of place in a silly telenovela Latin soap.
Blu-ray Picture QualityThe Blu-ray of Like Water for Chocolate uses a 1080p/24 AVC encode in the film's original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The transfer is reasonable and the majority of its weaknesses reflect the limitations of the film's Mexican production, which was fairly low budget. The cinematographer was the Oscar-winning Emmanuel Lubezki and he shot the film with a hazy, dream-like quality using filters and subdued lighting. The disc reflects that but as a result there is none of the fine detail that you would expect to see from a modern film. The image still has plenty of high definition detail but there is a softness to it and a fair degree of film grain. The encode is reasonably accurate and free of banding or edge enhancement. However there are instances of digital noise reduction, especially in dark scenes, which no doubt suffered from excessive film grain. This isn't a perfect transfer but it's probably as good as the film will look and a decent representation of the filmmaker's intent.
The image is soft but that reflects the original photography which has a certain dream-like quality.
Blu-ray Sound QualityThe Blu-ray audio uses a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1-channel soundtrack, which does the best it can with the original elements. Given the limited budget of the original production, not to mention the nature of the film's subject matter, no one should be expecting any audio pyrotechnics. However the film's score is accurately reproduced, the Spanish-language dialogue is centred well and there's a nice sense of atmospherics. The fidelity of the original recordings is quite good but clearly the dynamic range is limited and there's very little in the way of bass information. As is common in Latin movies, a lot of the dialogue was recorded in post rather than on the set and this is fairly obvious when listening to the soundtrack but, as with the picture, the Blu-ray does a good job of reproducing the filmmaker's creative intentions.
Although the soundtrack is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, it's limited by the film's original soundtrack.
Blu-ray ExtrasThere is only one extra on this Blu-ray release of Like Water for Chocolate, a commentary that involves director Alfonso Arau and stars Lumi Cavazos and Marco Leonardi. Their conversation covers many aspects of the film and it's interesting to hear all three of them reminiscing after all these years; although they're talking in Spanish of course, so the commentary has English subtitles.
Like Water For Chocolate Blu-ray VerdictLike Water For Chocolate skims over potentially profound themes such as Tita's rich white European-descended family and their dark-skinned native Mexican servants; the miserable lot of a woman in a macho culture; and the revolution itself. But the film's chief interest is as a forerunner to the current cinematic Mexican revolution in Hollywood (in fact cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki won an Academy Award for Birdman this year and for Gravity last year). At it's heart though, it's a period-piece chick flick en español.
Whilst not perfect, this Blu-ray release manages to capture the filmmaker's original intention.
As is usually the case, Arrow Video have delivered another fine Blu-ray release that reflects the filmmaker's original intent. Any problems with this release largely relate to the original film rather than the transfer. The film wasn't shot on a large budget and this shows; whilst Emmanuel Lubezki's photography is deliberately dream-like resulting in an image that has a soft appearance. The audio is similarly limited with very little in terms of surround effects or dynamic range and dialogue that was largely recorded in post-production. There's only one extra, a commentary track involving the director and stars, but it does make for an interesting listen. However this Blu-ray release of Like Water for Chocolate is really only for fans of the original film.
You can buy Like Water for Chocolate Blu-ray here
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