09 December 2006

Tortilla Soup

Tortilla Soup (2001), directed by María Ripoll; starring Hector Elizondo, Jacqueline Obradors, Constance Marie, and Raquel Welch

This is a remake of Ang Lee’s wonderful Eat Drink Man Woman. Sometimes a remake is a vast improvement on the original, as in the case with Sabrina, with deeper characters, and even a more plausible plot. Sometimes, however, the original film is so tightly woven together in the writing and editing that a remake just doesn’t work. Unfortunately, the second is the case with Tortilla Soup. It’s not a bad film, but it just doesn’t measure up to Eat Drink Man Woman.
No one simply wants to copy, frame by frame, another filmmaker’s work, but instead wants to add certain touches, change motifs, or develop characters in a different direction. The problem here is that the original was so good, no extra dialog, no extra shots, every scene showing something about the characters and their relationships to one another, and powerful, repeating metaphors, that any changes reduce the impact of the remake.

Here’s one example: in the original, food is tightly controlled: who eats food prepared by whom, circumstances when people eat either alone or together, characters’ attitudes toward food, all develop or reveal character and relationships. The food in Tortilla Soup wasn’t as tightly controlled, and thus it loses much of its symbolic and thematic weight.

There were certain scenes in the original that were cinematically wonderful - no dialog, just an image that communicated clearly what was going on - that in the remake were exchanged for an easy-to-miss expository line of dialog.

Many of the set-ups weren’t paid off (again, we traded images for throw-away expository lines of dialog), and the climax of the film was moved from the very last scene to the penultimate scene, reducing its impact.

I’d suggest that you rent Eat Drink Man Woman and read your way through the subtitles. And then discuss some of these issues, especially the use of food, with those you watched it with.

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