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Movies > A Touch of Spice June 8, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Movies Life Greek.

Food is spice of Greek film

Greek cuisine would seem to be a natural for a food-centric film, as evidenced by the newly released “A Touch of Spice” by Greek filmmaker Tassos Boulmetis.

Already a success in Greece, ”Spice” tells a tale of exile and longing when politics force a Greek family to leave their beloved Istanbul for Athens. It’s wrenching for the parents, but even more so for Fanis (played by Markos Osse as a child and Georges Corraface as an adult), the young boy who has spent his early childhood in his grandfather’s spice shop.

The grandfather (played by Tassos Bandis) tutors his grandson on the wonder of spices: How they affect people’s emotions, especially cinnamon, which opens your heart. He even compares them to the planets. But he won’t be going with the family, nor will the boy’s beloved friend, a girl named Saime. Fanis, who as a 40-year-old astrophysics professor is the film’s narrator, says: ”When the Turks sent us away for being Greek, the Greeks greeted us with disdain for being Turks.”

”Spice” is director Boulmetis’s own story of exile 30 years ago. He returned to Turkey in 1994, he writes. ”During this trip, which was the journey of my life, I realized I had to communicate my feelings.” Food was a way to bring the tale alive again. ”Of course, it is important to mention that the Greek title of the film is “Politiki Kouzina” he writes. The word POLITIKI is in capital letters, he explains, because in the Greek language the meaning changes depending on where the accent is placed. If the accent is on the LI, the title means the cuisine of Istanbul; on the KI, the word translates as “political cuisine” meaning the conflict between Greece and Turkey.

In fact, Boulmetis writes, the film had different titles in other languages, some using the names of spices. In Spain, it was dubbed ”Un toque de canella” (A Touch of Cinnamon). In German-speaking countries, it was called ”A Touch of Coriander” and in Latin America, ”The Salt of Life”.

Everything in the film revolves around eating and family meals. There’s an aunt whose Parkinson’s symptoms mysteriously disappear when the kitchen is in turmoil; the family’s praise for the boy’s cooking as he teaches himself; the alarm when his teachers announce that ”he’s not normal” because he prefers cooking to sports.

But even with parts of the movie labeled Appetizers, Entrees, and Desserts, you won’t come away knowing how to cook a Greek dish or even how to construct one. The culinary arts are as mysterious as Greek life. Only the effects of spices are articulated, and they bind together the family’s story. When Fanis returns as an adult to Istanbul to see his dying grandfather, his use of cinnamon in his meatballs shapes his future.

The grandfather’s wise character was based on director Boulmetis’s own grandfather. ”He wanted to connect the most remote things of the universe like planets and suns,” writes the director, ”with the most close things we enjoyed in everyday life, such as spices.” The film grandfather tries to mentor Fanis through the family’s exile by comparing the spices to the planets and stars to make the boy a citizen of the universe, Boutemis writes, and to make him ”home in every city in the world.” The spices prompt the metaphor of the ”bitter and sweet aspects of living in a foreign country.”

After Fanis returns to Istanbul and again meets his long-lost love Saime (played by Basak Koklukaya as an adult), who has separated from her husband, Fanis prepares meatballs with cinnamon for her, hoping the spice will open her heart to him. The plan backfires. Her husband, appearing unexpectedly at his little daughter’s birthday party, gains the benefits.

And Fanis realizes his grandfather’s other lesson about the aromatic spice, that it represents the planet Venus and stands for love for a woman, a little sweet, a little bitter.

The Greek director says he finds joy in cooking for his friends. ”My best dishes are beef liver fried with onion and parsley”, good with Greek ouzo, and his favorite, a casserole of red beans. However, he adds, his cooking is limited right now. A strict diet allows only salads, chicken, and fish. No liver, no beans, no meatballs perfumed with cinnamon.

ATouchOfSpice.jpg “A Touch of Spice” by Greek filmmaker Tassos Boulmetis.

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