It’s a wrap!
This year I watched slightly more movies than usual.
- 2 Culinary Cinemas: Ants on a Shrimp and Wanton Mee,
- 3 Panoramas: War on Everyone, Goat, Junction 48
- 3 Berlinale Special Gala: Creepy, A Quiet Passion, Where to Invade Next
- 3 Competition: Midnight Special, Alone in Berlin, Genius
- 5 Generation: Ted Sieger’s Molly Monster, ENTE GUT! Maedchen allein zu Haus, Das Tagebuch der Anne Frank, Royahaye Dame Sobh, Born to Dance
- 1 Generation Short Films.
16 movies, and 6 short films. Phew! It’s going to be too long to write in a single post, so I’m going to divide it into:
- Part One (This one!): Culinary Cinemas: Ants on a Shrimp & Wanton Mee
- Part Two: The Suppression Theme
- Part Three: Generation and other non-depressing movies
Alrighty, let’s get to it!
Culinary Cinema: Ants on a Shrimp
Perhaps we all have a perversion to know how others lead their life. My interest in food is not as a chef. I’m always curious in the thought process of an artist. Not necessarily for copying or following what they do, but just to candidly see them doing what they do best.
Ants on a Shrimp follows the story of the Noma team in their journey to open a Noma pop-up at Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo. Anyone who thinks that opening a restaurant or being a chef is an easy job should watch one of these movies about a chef’s life. It’s very much of a lifelong dedication, long hours to achieve food perfection.
The movie opens with the opening day scene at Noma Tokyo. There seemed to be some chaotic things going on and you could see the nervousness going on, even with René Redzepi, the chef of Noma. “But nervousness is good”, he said, “it showed that you cared.”.
The journey goes into a flashback of the crew being sent to Tokyo three months prior to coming up with the 14-course menu. The work is by no means easy. It’s anything but. You see the crew working long hours in a kitchen space three stories underground, pushing themselves to achieve the best dish possible. Yet, despite all that, you could see that they are those crazy people who love their job so much there’s nothing else they would rather do.
You get to understand their thought process and sympathize with their agony to achieve perfection. On how they tried to come up with not just Noma’s signature dishes, but also dishes representing their food journey in the Japanese landscape.
I love the scene where the crew went for a walk through the forest and (carelessly) tried out different bits and pieces of the forest. Even ants :D.
Should you see this movie? Definitely, if you’re interested in Noma. Yes, if you’re interested in an artist / chef thought process.
WARNING: some scenes might not be suitable for vegetarians ;).
Culinary Cinema: Wanton Mee
“Wanton Mee” is a look into the Singaporean hawker food culture. Told from the perspective of a middle-aged food critic, Chun Feng Koh, Wanton Mee walked you through the different food stalls in Singapore, on the (most times) grueling process of how the food is produced.
The movie brings you the ultimate Singaporean food porn, where you see all of those to-die-for mouth-watering street foods, with nowhere to get them in Berlin. (PS: I’ve never been so hungry and so sad after a movie before.)
Evolving around the clash of generations, which seemed to be one of the issues in Singapore, a city of rapid change. You could see the conflict between Chun Feng Koh with his father, about how things were moving slower with his father’s generation. You also have the conflict with the younger generation, who seemed to want things in an even speedier pace.
These thoughts are then brought into how we see the hawker food places. Not the trendiest place to go anymore, yet they produce one of the best food experience you can get in Singapore. The movie pointed out that hawkers seemed to be of a dying breed, due to rising costs of operational costs, and lack of interest of doing such grueling job.
Chun’s journey takes you to the multiple hawker places across Singapore. From a very distinctive way to serve food (Hainanese rice in form of a ball to put the chicken on!), successful story of expansion of the kitchen, fathers who doesn’t really want their children to continue doing the business, fathers who insisted the children does, children who wanted to continue despite, and the business that stayed as sisterhood.
It might not be the best form of docu-feature I’ve seen, but it’s enough to make you want to book a flight to Singapore right away. Once I get my hands on the list of food mentioned in the movie!
Should you see this movie? Yes, if you want to see a different food culture in Singapore, where clashes between generations are more prominent. No, if you don’t have some sort of immediate access to those foods mentioned in the movie (kidding!).
Afterthoughts on Culinary Cinema
While I don’t think it’s completely fair to compare both of them, (Wanton Mee is docu-feature rather than a true documentary, but assuming that the food hawker owner/chef work is an actual documentary), I would like to write down my afterthoughts, especially since I saw the movie back to back.
- Being a chef requires many hours of work. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Michelin star chef or a hawker chef. Perhaps the only difference is how much people are willing to pay you for your time.
- There are different skills on being a chef, and it’s not just making plates look pretty. You tend to take for granted the amount of skills needed to make a “simple” dish like cooking with a charcoal stove.
- With the hawker culture, it always seemed like they just wanted the secret to stay in the family, and so you basically work until you die or your children take over.
- With Noma’s concept (and perhaps most restaurant like this), the head chef tends to find the best team and talent. There are a few scenes in Ants on a Shrimp where you could see the nurturing culture of the team. One where they mentioned a recurring staff competition to create the best dish, and, more importantly, having the whole Noma team tasted it and giving them constructive feedback. Another when Rene gave praise to his whole main team, highlighting each one’s capability, that made them special and crucial to the team.
If you’re curious about the reviews of the other Culinary Cinemas this year and a look into the dinner, go check out my dear friend Yasmina’s blog on the Berlinale Culinary Cinema, here.