Like Water for Chocolate (Mexico, 1992)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

In the early years of the twentieth century, on a small ranch in Mexico, the story of three sisters and their repressive mother unfolds. Tita (Lumi Cavazos) is the youngest daughter of Mama Elena (Regina Torne), and, as such, because of a family tradition, she is forbidden to marry or have children until after her mother's death. Tita is agreeable to this situation until she falls in love with the dashing young Pedro (Marco Leonardi). When Pedro learns that he cannot marry Tita, he agrees to an engagement with her older sister, Rosura (Yareli Arizmendi), in the hope that by marrying her, he will have ample opportunities to spend with his real love.

An admittedly unusual title for a film, Like Water for Chocolate fits the mood -- odd, playful, and sweet. It equates the boiling point of water for hot chocolate with the height of passion. With occasional surrealistic fantasy sequences interspersed between the commonplace goings-on of regular lives, the film weaves a subtle spell of enchantment -- until a disappointing conclusion.

Although it deals with some potentially-weighty subjects -- death is a prevalent theme -- Like Water for Chocolate is surprisingly light-hearted. It manages to find the humorous side of every subject. There are times when darker emotions are expressed, but director Alfonso Arau doesn't allow them to dominate. This film is a confection, and he doesn't intend for it to turn bitter. Unfortunately, by including an overly-mawkish epilogue that's designed to give the film closure, he makes things a little too sweet.

Like Water for Chocolate is about desire, love, and rebellion. We are given an opportunity to see how the attitudes of the characters change over time and how true love, once revealed, can never be held back. Not surprisingly, a recurring metaphor is food, which is used to represent life and vivacity. Hardly a scene goes by without someone eating or preparing a meal, and some of the film's more delectable sequences involve banquets.

One of the best films to come out of Mexico in years, Like Water for Chocolate possesses an almost ethereal, undeniably erotic quality. For those with a penchant for offbeat, quirky, and subtly emotive films, this one is a treat. It's unfortunate that the ending leaves a vaguely unpleasant aftertaste.

Like Water for Chocolate (Mexico, 1992)

Director: Alfonso Arau
Cast: Lumi Cavazos, Marco Leonardi, Regina Torne, Mario Ivan Martinez, Yareli Arizmendi
Screenplay: Laura Esquivel
Cinematography: Steven Bernstein, Emmanuel Lubezki
Music: Leo Brower
U.S. Distributor: Miramax Films
Run Time: 1:45
U.S. Release Date: -
MPAA Rating: "R" (Nudity, Sexual Situations, Violence)
Subtitles: English dubbed Spanish
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1