Picks and Pans Review: Like Water for Chocolate

updated 06/07/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/07/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Lumi Cavazos, Marco Leonardi, Regina Torné

A Gabriel García Márquez-fla-vored folktale blending fate, forbidden love, family feuds and food, this adaptation of Laura Esquivel's best-selling novel is—let us not mince words—a feast. Like Water for Chocolate, set in Mexico in the early part of the 20th century, centers on the youngest daughter (the luminous Cavazos) of a family ruled by iron-fisted matriarch Torné. Cavazos' only safe haven is the kitchen, where through elderly cook Ada Carrasco she learns the mystical properties of food.

The trouble begins when Cavazos and a handsome neighbor (Leonardi) fall in love and seek Torné's permission to marry. No, she decrees, according to obscure family tradition, Cavazos as the last born must remain single to serve her mother's every whim. But perhaps, she suggests, Leonardi would care to many Cavazos' sister (Yareli Arizmendi). While the general reaction of the household is horror—"You can't exchange tacos for enchiladas," gasps a servant—Leonardi agrees to the plan to be near his beloved, who is assigned to cook the nuptial feast. The wedding cake, accidentally flavored with Cavazos' tears, has a disconcerting effect on the guests: They become violently heartsick—and sick to their stomachs—as they recall their own lost loves. On another occasion, when Cavazos cooks quail in rose-petal sauce, using flowers given her by Leonardi, those gathered around the dinner table are infused with incalculable sexual passion.

This visually sumptuous movie, which takes its title from the Mexican method for brewing hot chocolate by boiling water to the point of exquisite agitation—a metaphor for sexual arousal—may not be everyone's dish. But those willing to give themselves over to the gently ironic narrative, a large portion of mysticism and some wildly fanciful plot turns, are in for a treat. (R)

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