William Whit (1995) made the point about the meanings we can trace in our activities involving food. He argues that specific food habits can have specific significations. For instance, eating food together can manifest solidarity while a more rigorous manner of preparing the food can suggest greater intimacy.
In Jorge Coira’s 18 Comidas, we can see these implications in the various meals that were presented to us. Sol prepared a meal for Edu, the street musician, and they had lunch together in order for her to tell him that she has been dreaming “dirty” dreams about him lately. Victor prepared a meal for his brother Juan, and he invited him to his flat which he shared with his lover, Sergio. The actor, Vladimir, prepared a breakfast, and eventually another meal for Laura only for him to be disappointed. In these instances, we can see how meal preparations can and actually become a springboard for meaningful interactions; or in Vladimir’s case, how the absence of such interaction can lead to vital realizations. Sol and Edu “flirted” with each other while the former’s husband was at work and we can assume at the third part of the film, when Sol talked to her husband after the dinner, how meeting Edu had made her arrive to the decision to leave her husband. In the meal shared by Victor and Sergio with Juan and Ana, the waitress he just met and flirted with, we saw a “coming out,” albeit not an explicit one, and how this expectedly led to a confrontation marked by fits of emotion only to be resolved with an embrace shared by the brothers (hermanos) and an admittedly heart-warming vocal expression of Sergio of his commitment to Victor, as if he was his brother.
In both the meals shared by Edu and Sol and Victor, Juan and their partners, we can see how the rigor of preparing a meal implies the gravity of purpose in having a meal together or the intimacy between the people sharing the meal. I believe Sol did not invite Edu merely to tell him of her dreams. This is rooted more deeply in her growing sadness which is mainly caused by her marital relation, and which I believe she thought seeing Edu can alleviate.
Another recurring element in the meals in the film which I think speaks more of the Spanish culture is the wine that is present at almost every dining table. Vladimir prepared one bottle supposedly to he shared by Laura and him. Sol and Edu had one too. Even the old couple who shared a meal silently by themselves in their house and passed on pancakes to each other also had a bottle of wine. The close shots, which I observe to be very prominent all throughout the film, strike the most for me in the sequences of the old couple. I believe that more than dialogues could have, these shots have communicated more intensely the intimacy between the old couple. This kind of shot also seems the most apt in rendering supposedly revealing, if not emotional scenes occurring in the typical and ordinary domain of the dining table where people share meals with one another. The indecision is very visible when we are closely directed by the camera to the face of Sol and then of Edu while they were appraising the look thrown by the other. Vladimir’s dejection was also obvious when Laura confirmed in the phone that she could not make it to his place and have a meal with him.
In all, Coira’s 18 Comidas is an invigorating take of cinema in exposing the possibly multiple layers that can be found in the act of dining that we engage ourselves to every day. Taking in “everyday” kind of people as its characters, the film does well in depicting the tensions of everyday and the different attitudes people take in relation to them and at the end, the decisions they make and how these can lead either to relief, a sense of triumph or an insight on one’s relation to others and the world.
Someone might decide to take time away from her husband, or decide to stand firm beside someone who just saw a father having a heart attack, or confirm the rightness of their choice on whom to spend their life with no matter what others think, or give up hopes on a girlfriend arriving for a shared meal and join friends instead on a birthday party – any of these decisions and actions can ensue from a simple meal.
Whit, William. 1995. Food and social order. In Food and society: a sociological approach.
Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers.