Saturday, September 20, 2014

MVFF37: Soul of a Banquet

Last week I saw a preview of Soul of a Banquet, a modestly produced documentary by Wayne Wang about San Francisco restaurateur Cecilia Chiang. In the first half, Ms. Chiang, now a charming & august woman in her 90s, describes her privileged childhood in China before the war & then how she came to open the Mandarin Restaurant in the 1960s, despite feeling excluded by the Cantonese speakers of San Francisco's Chinatown. Alice Waters & food writer Ruth Reichl provide additional culinary & sociological commentary. It adds up to an oral history of a certain class of Chinese in the 20th century. Ms. Chiang's tragic account of her 1972 visit to China is riveting.

The film's 2nd half documents a fancy private banquet hosted by Ms. Chiang in honor of Alice Waters. The camera gives us many closeups of the elaborately detailed preparations & does a good job capturing the textures of the food. Ms. Chiang explains each course to her guests with a story, & the theatrical meal includes paper-thin slices of abalone, 2 tantalizing pork belly dishes & a chicken baked in a clay casing which has to be shattered with a hammer when it's ready to be served. Soul of a Banquet will screen at the Mill Valley Film Festival on October 5th, with Mr. Wang & Ms. Chiang attending. There is a repeat showing on October 7th.

§ Soul of a Banquet
Wayne Wang, dir., US, 2014, 78 mins.

§ The 37th Mill Valley Film Festival
Sun, Oct 5 5:00 PM, Rafael 1 (Special Screening with Wayne Wang and Cecilia Chiang)
Tue, Oct 7 2:15 PM, Sequoia 1

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