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Feast scenes in films

Feast scenes in films — The dishes served in films like ”Dinner at Eight,”’ ”Tampopo,” and ”My Dinner With Andre”

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Considering that we’ve all got to do it, eating and its attendant rituals get curiously short shrift in cinema. Not the foodstuff of drama, you say? Here are four films that put the lie to that notion. Face Thanksgiving’s ritual feasting by putting the pumpkin pie in the oven and one of these tapes in the slot.

Dinner at Eight (MGM/UA, 1933)
It was supposed to be just a nice little do for some visiting British gentry, but by the time the meal is served at the Jordans’ society dinner during the Depression’s nadir, a lost aspic is dead last on a long list of tragicomic mishaps. Among the invitees for Dinner at Eight are a daughter who’s gotten her first bitter taste of adulthood (Madge Evans), a whisky-soaked actor (John Barrymore), a vintage actress (Marie Dressler), a tough platinum-blond schemer (Jean Harlow), and her conniving financier husband (Wallace Beery). Director George Cukor leads a deft tour through a week in their lives, via the glittering George S. Kaufman-Edna Ferber play. A-

Babette’s Feast (Orion, 1987)
When this Danish film was booked into ”art” houses three years ago, restaurants hastened to assuage the appetites of post-screening diners with turtle soup, blini Demidoff, cailles en sarcophage, and other dishes served in the film. Keep something tasty at hand for the last 30 minutes, during which the feast is served. Gabriel Axel’s adaptation of a story by Isak Dinesen is set on the austere Jutland coast in the latter half of the 19th century. There, a small community of Lutherans receives a lesson in the advantages of embracing life over religious asceticism and salt cod. Their teacher is an exiled French chef (Stéphane Audran), and never has the notion of the art of French cooking tasted truer. B+

Tampopo (Republic, 1987)
A culinary wonderment, this lavish, multi-course film always feels light. Japanese director Juzo Itami uses chopsticks to dismantle the decorum accumulated by a society obsessed with food, spoofing Westerns and gangster flicks and showing new appreciation for the charms of room service along the way. The main story, interrupted by delicious subthemes, brings truck-driving Goro to save lovely Tampopo and her noodle bar from the ignominy of noodles that ”lack guts.” As Shane would have done, he waits for the heroine’s victory over her ingredients before riding off into the sunset in his rig. A-

My Dinner With Andre (Pacific Arts, 1981)
Where there’s dinner, there must be conversation. There’s much of the latter, but not a whole lot of the former, in director Louis Malle’s understated film of Wallace Shawn’s and Andre Gregory’s script of themselves talking. Before delivery of the main course, cailles (squab again, dear?), it’s apparent that Andre is a bit off his nut, and gnomish Wally is in a philosophic deep sea without a life vest. The humor is largely collegiate, but everyone will recognize in Andre something of the dinner partner from hell. He just can’t stop talking (about reality, The Little Prince, electric blankets…). In the wall of words, there’s quite a bit to hear. B

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