Martin is a widower, a master-chef with a passion for cooking even though he no longer has a sense of taste or smell. His three daughters still live with him – Carmen (Jacqueline Obradors), a successful business woman, also has a passion for cooking, but it must take second place to her father’s ambitions for her; Letitia (Elizabeth Peña), a dowdy school teacher, who fears her chance for love and romance has passed her by; and Maribel (Tamara Mello) the youngest girl who wants to make a life of her own, when she finds out what it is she wants. Martin’s culinary skills provide the centrepiece to their family life, a table around which that their lives revolve. However Martin’s recipes for food and life no longer match the desires of his daughters and each of them has a bombshell to deliver…
Tortilla Soup is a fairly faithful re-make of Ang Lee’s Eat Drink Man Woman and there is no reason why the film shouldn't work in a new setting. The Mexican cuisine is certainly a convincing substitute for the elaborate and exotic Chinese dishes in the original, to such an extent that you almost expect to see recipes for the dishes rather than cast and crew credits at the end of the film. But something has been lost in the translation.
The characters are not written with any kind of real depth and the performances consequently are rather lacking. Their motivations are all too transparent and predictable, but just in case everything is not spelt-out clear enough for the audience, they take great care to express and explain every feeling and action verbally. Apart from a strong performance from Yolanda (Constance Marie) playing in a very minor role, I didn’t feel that any of the lead female characters sympathetic or well-played. Carmen, who really should be the principal sister in the film, is never fully explored. She is a successful business woman, buying her own apartment and taking control of her own life and as such should be the motivating factor that inspires the other sisters to sort out their own lives. Without this strong central role, the film’s structure and drive suffers as a consequence.
Worse still, the film handles the two key sequences that the film’s finale rests upon in a terribly ham-fisted manner. Trying not to give anything away, but if it had been any actress other than the still strikingly beautiful Raquel Welsh in the role of Hortensia, you might be able to understand the father’s actions at the end of the film. Poor delivery and the need to make the significance and meaning of every action clearly obvious also ruin the film’s other revelation when, bizarrely, Carmen puts a dish before her father who has not been able to taste food for 10 years and asks him what he thinks of her recipe, significantly lessening the impact of the punchline.
PictureThe picture is quite soft. Close-ups are fine, but definition is lost in long and medium shots. There is the odd faint flickering of grain, but otherwise the picture is very clear with good naturalistic colours, brightness and contrast. A fine picture, there are not too many problems here.
SoundThe sound mix is fine and appropriate for the film. Focus is on the centre speaker with some wider range to left and right for sound effects and background noises and good stereo separation of the musical score. There is little use made of rear speakers or LFE and there is no real requirement for them.
ExtrasThe only extra on the DVD is a theatrical trailer. I wouldn’t watch this before the film unless you want know the whole story and all of the sisters’ revelations before you watch the film.
ConclusionFor Tortilla Soup to work as a film in its own right it needs to create a rhythm of its own, but it never really takes advantage of best points of the Mexican family setting. Apart from one or two sequences where it accompanies the cooking of food to a Latino and Brazilian Bossa Nova soundtrack, the film remains shackled to the template of the original and fails to take advantage of the rhythm, temperament and spirit of the new setting, and consequently never flows as smoothly as Eat Drink Man Woman.