"If music be the food of love, play on. Give me excess of it."
Food of Love is about two concert pianists—one world-renowned, the other aspiring—but the film's director, Ventura Pons, has said that he never wanted it to be a "piano movie." In other words, he didn't want this to be a movie about piano playing; he wanted this to be a movie about love that happened to include some piano playing.
He succeeded. Food of Love is not a perfect film, but it is captivating, artistic, and euphonious. And it is about so much more than just the piano.
Facts of the Case
Food of Love opens with Paul Porterfield (Kevin Bishop) arriving to turn pages for pianist Richard Kennington's (Paul Rhys, From Hell) concert in San Francisco. Afterward, Richard invites Paul, himself a pianist who is planning to attend Julliard in the fall, to have a drink with him. As Richard is his idol, Paul considers the offer but is discouraged when his mother, Pamela (Juliet Stevenson, Truly Madly Deeply, Bend It Like Beckham), enters with congratulations.
Paul and his parents are planning a summer-long trip to Spain, but we soon learn that Paul's father will not be partaking, as he is divorcing Pamela to be with another woman. The two decide to go by themselves, despite Pamela's instability in reaction to the news.
Soon after arriving in Barcelona, Paul ventures out on a solo exploration, during which he sees a poster advertising Richard Kennington in concert, the night before. Although unsure why, Paul has a desire to see Richard again, so he begins calling every hotel in the city until he finally locates him. When connected with him, though, Paul hangs up and decides to make contact in person. Paul ends up in Richard's hotel room, one thing leads to another, and Paul finds himself the recipient of a back rub that turns into a shirtless massage that turns into so much more.
For the rest of their time in Barcelona, Paul and Richard spend days holed up in Richard's room and evenings with Pamela, who, thinking the two have been exploring the city together, remains oblivious to their relationship. What Paul doesn't realize is that Richard is in a relationship with his manager, Joseph Mansourian (Allan Corduner, Yentl, Topsy-Turvy), and that Richard's extended stay is putting a strain on them. So when Paul invites Richard to follow them to Grenada, he is surprised at Richard's refusal. Worried about Paul's growing attachment, Richard leaves for home that day.
Six months later, Paul is settled in at Julliard, complete with a roommate and a middle-aged lover. By chance, he runs into Joseph, who asks him to turn pages for his new client, one of Paul's classmates. The concert is in Joseph's apartment (Richard is out of town), and Paul stays afterward and, inexplicably, succumbs to Joseph's advances.
While home for Christmas, Paul takes a lesson with his old teacher, who informs him that he will never be anything more than an accompanist, not a concert pianist. Crushed, he declares to his mother that he is quitting the piano. In reaction to this announcement, Pamela snoops through Paul's things, looking for any explanation. What she finds is gay pornography and a picture of Richard Kennington.
No good has ever come from a hysterical mother who finds out her son is gay or a stage mother who finds out her son is quitting—will things be different this time?
Food of Love is not a "piano movie," it's not a "gay movie," it's not even a "European movie." It's a movie about love, in many different incarnations—infatuation, maternal love, romance, passion, companionship, et cetera—but it's not a love story. There's no couple to pull for, no star-crossed lovers who overcome the odds to be together in the end. It's more of an exposition on love, a demonstration of what love can look like, how it can function.
This movie about love would not work without its true-to-life characters. Each one is well crafted—there are no caricatures or one-dimensional automatons. Every character has a soul. And portraying these characters and keeping them to their realistic standards is a remarkable cast of actors. I'd especially like to note Kevin Bishop, who portrays Paul, for he naturally has quite a thick British accent but flawlessly convinces us he's a native of America. While I'm on the subject, Juliet Stevenson is also a Briton playing an American, but she, unfortunately, is not quite as credible. Her accent is detectable, and her attempts to cover it up result in a screechy farce.
The cinematography of the film is exquisite. With long, sweeping shots and intimate close-ups, Ventura Pons shows us the beauty and vivacity of his native Barcelona. And the DVD's video transfer does justice to this work of art. The 1.85:1 anamorphic print is free of errors and rich with bright colors and solid blacks. My only complaint is that the transfer is non-anamorphic.
As would be expected for a film about concert pianists, Food of Love's score is exceptional. From adagio to agitato, from legato to staccato, the music guides us through the story with ease and agility. Unfortunately, the audio track does not let it resonate appropriately. The Dolby Digital 2.0 surround track handles the range of piano music nicely enough, but it's not as spectacular as it should be for a movie that relies so heavily on music to tell its story. In addition, a couple of problems occur starting at about one hour and two minutes, when, for a few minutes, the audio doesn't sync with the video; then, when that problem resolves itself, the audio becomes muffled for the next 10 to 15 minutes. These difficulties don't ruin the movie, but they certainly compromise it.
The extras for Food of Love are relatively complete, with behind-the-scenes footage; interviews with the director, the cast, and the author of "The Page Turner" (the novella upon which the film is based); and six trailers. At first I was disappointed to see the disc didn't include a director's commentary, as I was eager to learn more about the film and its creation, but after listening to Ventura Pons monotonously ramble on during the included interview, I've been cured of my disappointment.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Pons doesn't always give his audience enough credit in this film. Too many times he uses a character to tell us a piece of information explicitly when he ought to use the narrative to allow us to assume. For example, we learn that Pamela's husband is leaving her because she says exactly that to Paul. By spoon-feeding us the information, Pons reminds us that we're only observers, not participants, that we're just watching a movie, not living a story. Although only momentarily, he erases a little bit of the magic I feel when engrossed in a good film.
Food of Love is not for everybody. But if you're a romantic or if you're a classical piano fan, give it a try. I only recommend a rental, though—the audio track is unworthy of a purchase and you'd be wiser to spend the money on a CD or a copy of Amadeus.
For using piano strings to tug expertly at my heart strings, Food of Love is found not guilty. But, for releasing this harmoniously-scored film with an inferior audio track, TLA Releasing is sentenced to practice its scales indefinitely.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: TLA Releasing
• Behind the Scenes Footage
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