ARCHIVE REVIEW: A Touch of Spice

A Touch of Spice
Directed by: Tassos Boulmetis
Written by: Tassos Boulmetis
Starring: Georges Corraface, Ieroklis Michaeldis and Renia Louizdou

With its delayed arrival to the United States, the Greek made film, A Touch of Spice, comes off as a half-baked concoction ready for the Sunday late night line-up on the Lifetime network instead of the hungry mouths for creative, cultural cinema. Even if one can overlook the cheesy puns that might ensue in this review, they probably can’t stomach the over-cooked, nonstop food aphorisms stuffed in this snorer of a foreign film.

A Touch of Spice is the semi-autobiographical tale of Greek writer/director Boulmetis, following his vision for the mix of life lessons and cooking.  He is certainly no Julia Childs; so don’t be fooled there. His story focuses on Fanis, a young boy who grows up in his grandfather’s spice shop in Istanbul during the Turkey-Greece turmoil over the Island of Cyprus. In his grandfathers spice shop, he learns many things, like how different spices in cooking convey certain moods, tones and feelings, how they are symbolic for different planets or how they can bring together or tear apart family, neighbors and nations. Yes, all from spices.

As clever and endearing as that may sound, it is all overbearing. Cooking scene after cooking scene and aphorism after aphorism, there are no breaks to the overbearing advice. Fanis’ grandfather tells him Venus is like cinnamon, because both are bitter and sweet like all woman. Even if this is a bogus eye roller, it might be representative of Greek culture at the time, but the film doesn’t let it do that. Instead it preaches… and preaches. Relentlessly.

Divided into three segments, you guessed it, appetizers, main course and desserts, Fanis and his family are moved to round two after being deported by the Turkish government for being Greek citizens, leaving his grandfather and childhood crush behind. During the entre, Fanis takes strongly to cooking, worrying his family. Years later, after going from army chef to astronomy professor somewhat miraculously, Fanis revists his ailing grandfather and child love, contemplating the life lessons he learned growing up through food.

Beyond flavor, food may have rich cultural context, but linking it to political, historical and social issues is a new approach. It is interesting, indeed, but perhaps if it wasn’t so… I don’t know… overcooked, one might be able to overlook the deathly sappy and dull score, the cardboard characters, the made for TV aesthetics and find the wisdom to be as touching as intended.

Grade: D-

ARCHIVE REVIEW: Never on Sunday

Never on Sunday

Directed by: Jules Dassin
Written by: Jules Dassin
Starring: Melina Mercouri, Jules Dassin and Giorgos Foundas

Once a winner at Cannes, the Oscars and countless Greek award ceremonies and festivals, the 1960 Greek film Never on Sunday cleverly bypassed censorship and introduced a bridge between America and the mysterious culture of the Greek people.

Never on Sunday focuses on Ilya, a, dare I say it… whore. Though this prostitute is far different from the American portrayal of sex-for-money broken, diseased women. Ilya is beautiful, radiant, loved and respected by all the men, sailors and other prostitutes in her seaside town. She doesn’t name prices; she picks them along with her men. Shouldn’t she get to pick her clientele? She is the embodiment of the highlights of Greek culture. Her world is filled with adventure, sexual liberation, dance, music, drinking and the company of generous, hard working Greek men who adore her. Continue reading