Whereas it isn’t necessarily considered great entertainment to observe a painter at the canvas, or a writer behind the typewriter, the art of cooking makes for a strangely transfixing spectacle, as the unstoppable proliferation of food-themed TV programming indicates—a craze movies inevitably tap into as well.
Marcos Jorge’s Estômago (“stomach” in Portuguese), in which one man’s culinary skills serve to embellish his ill-fated existence, is one of the most arresting foodie films to come along in some time. Its frequent close-ups of dishes being prepared are so luscious—and its accompanying score so playfully lusty—that it might even be described as food porn.
The story of Raimundo Nonato, a recent transplant from small-town to big-city Brazil, is told on parallel tracks, seamlessly weaving between his rising gastronomic career—from a hole-in-the-wall fried-food joint to an upscale Italian restaurant—and his serving out a jail sentence in an overcrowded cell shared by eight inmates and an infestation of ants (delicacies when sautéed, Raimundo fruitlessly urges his new roommates) and maggots (an unwelcome meal ingredient before Raimundo becomes the cell’s chef).
Once we grasp the temporal sequence of the two threads, which isn’t clear at first, we’re left to speculate on just how Jorge’s antihero will end up behind bars. Thanks in no small part to João Miguel’s layered performance, we sympathize with Raimundo through his transformation from simpleton to conniver, all the while anticipating the atrocious crime he will most certainly commit—perhaps sparked by his love interest, a fleshy prostitute (Fabiula Nascimento) with an overriding lust for fine cuisine.
Jorge’s first solo directorial effort, which he also co-wrote, is swift and crowd-pleasing, but Tampopo it’s not. In addition to frothy comic and fairy-tale elements, the repeated comparisons between women’s bodies and food made by Raimundo’s piggish boss inevitably come into twisted play, adding a late touch of gruesomeness—tweaking the appetite the film induces as it progresses. Estômago exhibits tremendous skill and promise. It’ll be interesting to see what Jorge serves up next.
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