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Food on Film: Our Favourite Food Scenes on the Big Screen

6 August 21 words: LeftLion Screen Team

To tie in with August's Food and Drink issue of LeftLion magazine, the Screen Team choose their favourite food scenes on film... 

Ashley Carter (Editor) - A Sauce of Inspiration, Goodfellas (1990)

It’s hard to imagine a scene that would make a thirteen-year-old boy (with no prior convictions, I hasten to add) excited about the prospect of going to jail one day, but that’s exactly the mood Marvel super-fan Martin Scorsese managed to conjure with the famous prison cooking scene in Goodfellas. Each and every frame of the three-minute scene is packed with iconic moments: Paulie, looking resplendent in an Eeyore-coloured dressing gown, and his system of cutting garlic with a razor (so that it melts in the pan), Vinnie (played by Scorsese’s father, Charles) and his onion-heavy tomato sauce, Johnny Dio muttering “Medium-rare? Hmm, an aristocrat” through cigar chomping lips and, of course, Henry Hill, dripping with Adidas and nervous energy, emptying his smuggled bag of bread, meat, cheese, scotch and wine. Now we can eat. 

George White - The Cubanos, Chef (2014)

As a (near) lifelong vegetarian, I’m rarely tempted to start eating meat – but, damn, Chef pushes my resistance to the absolute limit. No scene more so than when Jon Favreau’s Carl Casper whips up a fresh trademark dish for his new food van – greasy, heart disease-inducing Cubanos. Stuffed with cheese and meat, these things look incredible, and they play a key role in the plot of the film, kicking things off for Carl and his crew and launching them into viral stardom. 

This movie was regularly described as ‘food porn’ when it was released, and it’s easy to see why. But there’s way more to it than just that; it’s a story about family, friendship and following your dreams. The food scenes really are something else, though.

Jamie Morris (Screen Co-Editor) - No Face’s Feast, Spirited Away (2001)

Few directors have as keen an eye for detail as Studio Ghibli’s Hayao Miyazaki, whose meticulous and vivid approach to animation lends itself perfectly to mouthwatering food scenes. From the freshly-baked pastries of Kiki’s Delivery Service to the steaming ramen bowls seen in Ponyo, Miyazaki’s oeuvre features so many culinary delights that it’s almost impossible to pick just one.

There’s a brief moment in Spirited Away, however, where the anime auteur fills the screen with dozens of colourful, hand-drawn dishes. No Face – a mysterious masked spirit – checks into the bathhouse where the film takes place and demands to be fed in exchange for handfuls of gold nuggets that he can conjure up from thin air. We see him gobble up sushi, stew, stuffed squid and a huge roasted fish as he swells in size with each monstrous gulp. Alas, the gleeful scene is cut short as No Face remains unsated and proceeds to snack on the waiters themselves.

James Hill - The Food Critic, Ratatouille (2007)

There's a rat in your kitchen, what are you gonna do? Turns out, quite a lot if you're a French rodent called Remy who has a penchant for cooking. When sour-faced food critic Anton Ego takes a bite of Remy's ratatouille, he is transported back to his childhood days spent devouring his mother's culinary delights. And before you can say bon appetit Anton is singing the praises of our furry protagonist, unbeknownst to the critic.

Pixar has always had a knack for evoking strong emotion in the simplest of ways. And in Ratatouille they showcase the power of suppressed memories suddenly bursting to life through the power of food. Ignore the multitude of health and safety nightmares on show and marvel at Pixar's love letter to French cuisine.

Katie Green - “I’ll Have What She’s Having”, When Harry Met Sally (1989) 

In this comedic scene, Billy Crystal’s Harry is being smug as always, explaining to Meg Ryan’s Sally that he has made every woman he’s been with orgasm – every time. In response, she asks how he really knows they are not faking, as at one point or another most women have most likely faked it. To prove her point, she begins to make some unusual noises that pick up in volume and get all eyes on her. After she finishes, a woman on the next table calls over the waiter and requests to have whatever she had, queue the classic one liner.

What is great about this scene is not only is it funny, but it sums up the plot and the relationship between our two main characters in one scene – with Harry trying to prove he is god's gift to women and Sally putting him in his place.

Jake Leonard - Diner Time, Certain Women (2016)

Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women is a poignant and understated anthology drama. In one story, lonely rancher Jamie (Lily Gladstone) wanders the local towns at night and accidentally stumbles into an evening class. She is drawn to teacher Elizabeth (Kristen Stewart), and the pair bond over a couple of diner scenes where Elizabeth catches a brief respite and wolfs down some food before making her long commute home.

Delicately directed with such matter-of-fact confidence in the material, situation, and the actors, Reichardt beautifully (and tragically) realises both Jamie’s longing for a meaningful connection and Elizabeth’s desire for a more casual interaction. On the surface, Elizabeth is eating and talking while Jamie listens and watches, but this is a wonderful example of how so much can be going on when nothing appears to be happening.

Elizabeth O’Riordan - That Spaghetti Scene, Chef (2014) 

From Lady and The Tramp to Eat Pray Love, spaghetti on screen has always been the food of passion and romance. Jon Favreau’s 2014 film Chef continues this tradition as head chef Carl Casper (Favreau) cooks a bowl of spaghetti aglio e olio for his love interest Molly (Scarlett Johansson). The scene has a lovely feeling of playfulness as Johansson watches Favreau cook; the camera’s gaze follows the pasta rather than the chef, creating a light-hearted ambiguity about the object of Johansson’s desire.

Shot in a dimly lit apartment, the scene evokes a feeling of sensuality around food, ultimately portraying the pleasure in a great dish of pasta. As the rest of the film explores cooking and its relationship to family, community and culture, the spaghetti scene is an exploration of the ways that food and sex are intertwined.

Aaron Roe - Prison Grub, The Irishman (2019)

In the latter stages of a hefty runtime, two codgers withered by age sit down for a prison meal in Martin Scorsese’s latest flick, The Irishman. On paper this scene should play out with brazen defiance; think Paul Sorvino slicing garlic with a razor in a swanky cell. All of those romantic evocations of the mafia life - of which Scorsese is largely responsible for – are undermined when Joe Pesci slurs, “That’s the good grape juice”.

In true Scorsese fashion, Russell Buffalino and Frank Sheeran are now being confronted by the grimmest hitman of them all: time. Buffalino, once a man who could make and break presidents, provide a death sentence with a stare, is now a husk who does nothing but gnaw on his bread gingerly. Clad in the stark, beige uniform of conformity, Pesci and De Niro are the antithesis of Henry Hill and his merry bunch. The scene’s introspective subversion grounds the genre like a Zimmer frame.

Frieda Wignall - Attack of the Peaches, Parasite (2019)

Food in film is often about comforting catharsis, but for master of symbolism Bong Joon-ho, it's a tool of violence. Food is everywhere in Parasite, but one item stands out: the innocuous peach, which becomes the weapon of choice in one of the film’s tensest climaxes. 

Most think that Parasite’s main conflict is the poor Kims vs the wealthy Parks. The heart-in-mouth sequence in which the usurping Kim family brawl with ousted housekeeper, Gook Moon-gwang, reveals otherwise. During the chaos, Kim Ki-jung uses peaches to induce an allergic reaction in Moon-gwang, which eventually helps subdue her before she is thrown into the Parks’ basement by the Kims. This genius scene complicates the standard upstairs-downstairs class narrative by introducing the underlying conflict: that of the poor fighting with each other to survive in a world of capitalist inequality. All of this symbolised by one fuzzy fruit – things aren’t so peachy, after all.

Roshan Chandy - Drama at the Drive-Thru, American Beauty (1999)

How’s that for a break-up? In American Beauty, Kevin Spacey’s Lester Burnham is working in a fast food restaurant and his wife (Annette Bening) and her love affair quite literally drive through the drive-thru. This scene highlights the brilliance of Alan Ball’s deliciously blunt and dry writing; delivered with ball-busting relish by Spacey who is on top-notch form with the line “You don’t get to tell me what to do ever again” in really long consonants.

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