Nowadays, a conversation about food generally means sharing the latest diet miracle trick or focusing on what is deemed healthy and what is not. This is of course important in a world where obesity and its related health problems are dramatically rising. However, there is a certain sadness to realise that often the notion of pleasure associated with eating has disappeared. There is one country that remains faithful to its culinary culture tough, and that is Italy. This explains why food plays such a big part in movies set in this country or featuring Italian characters.
Going back to the fifties and sixties, a prime example is "La Dolce Vita," directed by Federico Fellini and starring Anita Eckberg and Marcello Mastroianni. You can literally smell the aroma of the pasta dishes served in the Roman trattorie and it is a struggle not to get ravenously hungry. You would love to try these recipes yourself? You can still find them on the Internet today.
A bit closer to us, can you recall the famous quotes from Enzo, played by Jean Reno, one of the main characters in "The Big Blue", released in 1988 and a fantastic box-office success for director Luc Besson? Enzo is adamant that "pasta has to be eaten al dente" or is genuinely scared about his mother's wrath: "She will kill me if she catches me eating pasta in a restaurant!".
And how about the ragù sauce, prepared and served to her family on Sunday nights by Sophia Loren in the 1990 film "Sabato, domenica e lunedi"? The famous actress is actually a skilled cook in real life and has published a few recipe books. And one of the sayings attributed to her tells us: "Everything you see I owe to spaghetti".
"The Big Night" is a 1996 movie with Tony Shalhoub and Stanley Tucci. It recounts the story of two Italian immigrant brothers in the fifties struggling to keep their New Jersey restaurant afloat. The older one is the masterful cook who cannot bring himself to offer the mediocre meals that make a neighbouring place so successful. The younger one is the restaurant manager desperately trying to save their business. Without giving too much of the plot away, the key moment is the preparation of a mouth-watering feast, the central piece being a form of timballo, an elaborate baked pasta dish.
Last but not least, "Eat Pray Love" is recent enough for the story and pivotal scenes to still be clearly present in our minds. Julia Roberts, playing author Elizabeth Gilbert, spends time in Italy, India and Bali. How not to love the scene where she is so enjoying her pizza in Napoli that her line is: "I am in love. I am having a relationship with my pizza."
That bit of movie dialogue sums it all up, does it not?