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Tag Archives: Foreign Cinema

In the Mood for Love

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Image credit: In the Mood for Love, 2000

Get ready to have your goddamn heart ripped out this week with Wong Kar-wai’s timeless masterpiece In the Mood for Love (Disc/Download). I’m sorry to do this to you, but it can’t be helped. I can’t NOT talk about one of the greatest romances in cinema history—even when I know it’s going to hurt all over again.

I first saw this film in 2000 when it came to my town’s tiny little art house theater, and I remember being overwhelmed by its style and emotional punch. Because the story takes place in 1960s Hong Kong, viewers are treated to colorful mod wallpapers and gorgeous mandarin-collar dresses worn by lead star Maggie Cheung (and believe me, this woman has a lot of beautiful dresses). In the Mood for Love is so undeniably sexy, with its sultry Latin Nat King Cole tracks, dark alleyways, and longing looks shared between the film’s protagonists, that by the end you feel like you need the lipstick-covered cigarette left behind in Chow’s apartment. It’s an impossible romance between two married neighbors whose spouses are sleeping with one another, and for the briefest of seconds you start to believe that a happy ending is possible for these star-crossed lovers. Surely, the perfect soul mate doesn’t just slip right on by, like a noodle off a chopstick. Surely fate isn’t that cruel.

Although this is by no means a cocktail-heavy film, that doesn’t mean we can’t draw inspiration from some of the amazing dishes prepared and consumed onscreen. Food becomes a conduit for the love between the two characters, and we see it clearly when Mrs. Chan makes Chow sesame syrup while he’s fighting a cold. You might not think sesame could be used in a cocktail, but I’m open to experimentation this week. While watching In the Mood for Love, I recommend drinking a Sesame Highball.

Sesame Highball

3 slices cucumber, plus a cucumber ribbon for garnish

¾ oz lemon juice

¼ tsp. toasted sesame oil

Pinch of kosher salt

2 oz Vodka

1 oz Simple Syrup

3 oz Club Soda

Line a highball glass with cucumber ribbon, fill with ice, then set aside. Muddle cucumber slices in the bottom of a shaker with lemon juice, sesame oil, and salt. Add vodka, simple syrup, and ice. Shake until chilled, then double strain into prepared highball glass. Top with club soda and stir gently to combine.

In the Mood for Love is a movie about destiny, love, missed connections, and secrets, with not a single inch of wasted celluloid. Told in a very precise manner, the brisk story pacing forces the viewer to search for a place to rest—often finding it in the brush of a sleeve against a hip, the cloudy exhalation of smoke, or the reflection of a street light on wet pavement. If it sounds dreamy and otherworldly, it is—because that’s what falling in love feels like. Cheers!

The Triplets of Belleville

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Triplets of Belleville

Image credit: The Triplets of Belleville, 2003.

This week, I found the rare film that bridges the gap between my Mad Max-loving husband and myself.  By the time we finished The Triplets of Belleville (DVD/Download), we were both humming “Belleville Rendezvous”, and he enthusiastically admitted that this was the best French (mostly silent) cartoon he’s ever seen. Small pool, but I’ll take it!

Similar to The Artist, this film is largely dialogue-free, thus opening it up to a world-wide audience. You don’t need to speak French to laugh at Bruno the dog barking at trains, or the whistle-blowing little old lady with one oversized orthopedic shoe.  It’s ALWAYS going to be funny.  When her grandson gets kidnapped by the French mafia and forced into a simulated Tour de France, Grandma and Bruno travel across stormy seas to Belleville, a strange Metropolis-esque city up to no good. Their rescue operation gets some help from three aging singers with a hearty appetite for frogs, and soon they’re all making some strange, fantastic music. It’s delightful, it’s moving, and it’s a glorious love letter to old-school animation.

I don’t know much about cycling, but I do know that in the Tour, the Lanterne Rouge is the cyclist in last place who refuses to drop out. If that isn’t a metaphor for this whole movie, I don’t know what is. Break out the French aperitifs for a Red Lantern cocktail!

Red Lantern

1 ½ oz vodka

½ oz Cointreau

½ oz Chambord

1 oz cranberry juice

½ oz lime juice

Fresh Blackberry or raspberry

Lime Twist

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice, shake, and then strain into a glass. Garnish with a blackberry and lime twist.

Red Lantern

As I get older, and busier, I regret that I don’t take a chance on foreign cinema or animation the way I used to.  The Triplets of Belleville reminds me that great films come from unexpected places, and in unexpected formats.  And it also reminds me that some things, like the love between a boy and his grandma, or a boy and his dog, are universal. Cheers!

I Am Cuba

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Image credit:  I Am Cuba (Soy Cuba), 1964

Image credit: I Am Cuba (Soy Cuba), 1964

To close out Foreign Cinema Month on Cinema Sips, I’m featuring a film that is maybe the epitome of esoteric international art-house fare. Black-and-White photography? Check. No discernable plot? Check. Long stretches of time with no dialogue and beautiful tracking shots? Check. Gorgeous peasants who look like they stepped off the pages of an old Life magazine? Check!

I Am Cuba (DVD) is a Cuban/Soviet collaboration directed by Mikhail Kalatozov depicting the persecution and eventual rebellion of the communist Cuban party. I know- a laugh a minute, right? What draws me in to this film right away is the exquisite cinematography, which begins on a jungle cruise and continues onto a rooftop pool with the Havana La Dolce Vita crowd. Later, we’re transported to a smoky nightclub where a mournful singer croons `Loco Amor’, and depressed prostitutes nurse cocktails at the bar. The whole movie feels like a dream, or perhaps a nightmare that haunts you long after it’s over. My Laserdisc (yes, it is the dream of the 90’s at my house) of the film is subtitled in English, I think the characters are speaking Spanish, and there’s also Russian dubbing thrown in for fun. The American characters are either dubbed badly by someone with a Russian accent, or the Russian (or Cuban?) actors couldn’t quite grasp English before making this- I can’t tell which. Talk about foreign cinema!

I’ve featured variations on the Mojito several times on Cinema Sips, but with such an authentic Cuban movie, I think it’s time to make the real thing. I’ve been saving the mojito for either I Am Cuba or Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, and Kalatozov beat Swayze by a nose. According to the bartender at San Antonio’s Hotel Havana, the key to an excellent mojito is to roll the mint leaves against the palm of your hand to release the oils. I’m not sure if it’s true, but I had fun testing the theory. While watching I Am Cuba, I recommend drinking a Mojito.

Mojito

1 ½ oz White Rum

6 leaves of Mint

1 oz fresh lime juice

2 tsp. sugar

Soda Water

Muddle mint leaves in the bottom of a glass with sugar and lime juice. Add the rum, ice, and top with soda water. Garnish with a sprig of mint.

mojito

I have had such a great time re-discovering international cinema this month. Watching any of these films always gives me a bit of wanderlust. There were a few that didn’t make the cut that I’d still like to mention- I’m So Excited (or really anything by Pedro Almodóvar), Y Tu Mamá También, Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Blue is the Warmest Color, Jules et Jim, and The Blue Angel.  I urge you readers to check out one or two of the movies I’ve featured, and let me know if you have any other favorites. There really is a whole world of cinema out there waiting to be explored. Cheers!

Cinema Paradiso

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Image credit: Cinema Paradiso, 1988

Image credit: Cinema Paradiso, 1988

It’s no secret that I love movies. Why else would I write this blog, week after week? It’s not just for the drinks- I swear. What I love most of all are movies about movies. This brings me to the Italian component of Foreign Cinema Month, Cinema Paradiso (DVD). I’m not ashamed to admit that this schmaltzy, idealistic movie about the power of cinema tugs at my heartstrings every time, turning me into a weeping mess on the sofa. If you’re not affected even a little bit by the final montage, well then, I can’t help you.

Cinema Paradiso is at its core a love story between a boy and the art of cinema. Cute little Salvatore (`Toto’) pesters Alfredo (the projectionist at his local small-town cinema) into letting him help out in the projection room. Alfredo becomes a father figure, teaching Toto life lessons through movies, and encouraging him to follow his dreams of becoming a filmmaker. There’s a tepid love story that weaves itself through Toto’s adolescent years, but it can’t compare to the love stories we see on the screen of the tiny Italian movie theater. The film touches on religious censorship within Italian cinema, thus setting up the big finale. I feel like the Italians are the only ones who could have done this story justice, and their beautiful language only adds to the romance of the film as a whole.

Because this movie is a celebration of cinema, I think it deserves a prosecco toast. Pair it with the Italian aperitif Aperol, and you’ve got yourself a pretty, sparkly beverage evoking the Italian sunset. While watching Cinema Paradiso, I recommend drinking an Aperol Spritz.

Aperol Spritz

3 oz Prosecco

2 oz Aperol

1 oz club soda

Orange twist (optional)

Pour Aperol into a chilled flute or wine glass, and top with prosecco and club soda.  Garnish with an orange twist if desired. Toast to il cinema italiano!

aperol spritz

There have been a handful of other films about cinephiles (The Dreamers, Hugo, etc.) but Cinema Paradiso will always be my favorite. I first saw it as a teenager in a small town in Pennsylvania, and at the time it made me feel a little less alone. Like maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t crazy for wanting to barricade myself in my room with a stack of VHS tapes from Blockbuster. Toto ended up alright, anyway.  In many ways this blog, and the wonderful comments it receives, does the same thing for me as an adult. Here’s to Italy, and amore. Cin Cin!

Monsoon Wedding

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Image credit: Monsoon Wedding, 2001

Image credit: Monsoon Wedding, 2001

Get ready- Cinema Sips is off on an international adventure! For the entire month of July, I’ll be showcasing some of my favorite examples of foreign cinema. I know I have readers from all over the world, so maybe these films aren’t “foreign” to everyone. But for those of us living in the US, be prepared- there will be gorgeous scenery, there will be unusual flavors, and there will be subtitles. Deal with it. To kick things off, we’ll be visiting India through the lens of Monsoon Wedding (DVD/Download). Perhaps my favorite example of modern Indian filmmaking, this movie expertly blends contemporary Western culture with traditional Bollywood stereotypes. Add a cocktail, and you’ll feel like an honored guest at the reception.

Monsoon Wedding tells the story of an arranged marriage among upper middle class families in India. In a four day-long wedding extravaganza, we see the couple meet for the first time, learn their fears and dreams, and watch as distant relatives all come together to celebrate the union. I will admit, I grew up thinking of India through the typical Western lens- dirty, crowded, full of starving children, and telemarketers. However after seeing this movie, I discovered an entirely different side to the country. India is home to a beautiful world full of riotous color, arbors draped in marigolds, steamy summer nights, music, dancing, and laughter. Of course, what would a wedding be without a little family drama too? Director Mira Nair weaves a bold, complicated tapestry of family emotions, making the viewer realize that no matter what country you live in, embarrassing relatives are universal.

Summertime in India calls for a fruity, refreshing drink. Mango seems to be a popular flavor in this country, and the celebratory theme of the movie calls for something light and uplifting. While watching Monsoon Wedding, I recommend drinking a Mumbai Mojito.

Mumbai Mojito

1.5 oz rum

½ cup fresh mango (or frozen, thawed)

4 sprigs mint

1.5 oz lime juice

5 oz oz club soda

Marigold blossom (for garnish)

Muddle mango, mint, and 1 oz of lime juice. Add rum, mix, then pour into ice filled glass. Top with club soda, squeeze of lime, and a marigold.

Mumbai Mojito

By far my favorite character in Monsoon Wedding is wedding planner P.K. Dubey, who’s like a cross between Hrundi V. Bakshi and Martin Short in Father of the Bride. Permanently attached to his Nokia cell phone, he is the heart (and comic relief) of this film. His character is a lot like India itself- a blend of traditional cultural values, and new Western ideas. He can order up a weather-proof tent via this crazy new thing called email, but he can also tell you it won’t rain because the peacocks aren’t dancing. Now isn’t that the kind of planner every bride needs on her side? Cheers!