This film chronicles an “old money” upper class family in Milan; whose traditional order falls into a bit of chaos due to passion, power struggles, sexuality, death and food. My description might be hard to follow, but so was the movie. My guess is the director was trying to convey the complexity of old money families??? I especially liked the role that food plays in this film; in how it connects you to your past and how it can initiate a new path for your life.
The film starts with a party being held for the ailing (albeit still powerful grandfather) Eduardo Sr. It is hosted by Tancredi and Emma (his son and daughter-in-law). During this meal, a number of random things happen which seem to signify the impending fragmentation of this once powerful family’s textile empire. The sequence goes something like this: Tancredi and Emma’s eldest son (Eduardo Jr aka Edo-named for the grandfather/patriarch) has arrived late [he had just competed in a relay but came in 2nd place].
Edo’s siblings complain about being served their favored brother’s favorite dish again, which they do not like. It is a dish called Ucha-a Russian soup made by their mother, Emma (a Russian immigrant who has adopted the culture of Milan). Elisabetta, another sibling and artist, gives grandpa a piece of art that he is less than impressed by. In the same breath, grandpa announces that Edo will be the next CEO; thereby, passing over his son (Tancredi); who has worked by his side for years. Later in the meal, the family is visited by Antonio (a chef, friend and person who beat Edo in the earlier race). He brings a cake as a gift and in the exchange meets Emma (again, the mother)……. sounds like a great party-ugh!
In the coming days, Edo visits Antonio at the restaurant he works at. They discuss the possibility of opening a place together (in a property that Antonio’s father owns) in San Remo.
Later, Emma is having lunch at Antonio’s restaurant and has a near orgasmic experience; while eating a perfect plate of prawns. This is the turning point of the film AND what spoke most deeply to me, as I watched it. From personal experience, my cooking has been the way to enter the heart of my wife. Our first date was me cooking for her and though it took a bit of chasing; eventually, the food (and chef thereof) won out.
Elisabetta invites Emma to go with her to Nice to scout a location for her art exhibition. Knowing that Antonio is in the area, Emma secretly hopes to run into him as she hangs on to the lingering effects of the magical plate of prawns. They run into each other at a book store; then, go up to the property where he wants to build a restaurant and the shenanigans begin.
[SPOILER ALERT] More turmoil ensues in the family: foreign investors try to take over the company, Edo finds out about his mother’s affair, and consequently takes a fall, hits his head and dies of brain trauma. Exhausting I know!! Emma is inconsolable-she is lost and cannot stand the heavy life she has been leading (denying her Russian heritage/language/food/culture in order to blend in with this Italian clan).
The ending scene is of Emma shedding her old clothes (and life) and running out of the mansion to go be with her new love, Antonio…….Be sure to have a bottle of wine open when watching; as it is as heavy as this reads. The sets and scenery are beautiful, the sadness and angst is palpable, the dysfunction is unresolved but in the end food and love are all that’s important.
Written: Luca Guadagnino, Barbara Alberti
Directed: Luca Guadagnino
RECIPE: UCHA or its sometimes spelled UKHA. This dish falls in the long lineage of fish soups of which it seems every culture has in one way or another. The recipe given is approximate. Like bouillabaisse-it really only is true to form if the ingredients are from the area the dish came to fruition.