Film & Food Friday: Notorious

If you couldn’t tell by reading the last two installments of F&FF I have a deep and abiding love of film. I do. Besides my love of cooking and vintiquing my love of film tops ’em both. While trying to decide what film I’d talk about today I kept thinking back to a scene from Hitchcock’s Notorious (1946 — all images screen capped from YouTube, I own nothing) where Alicia (Ingrid Bergman) is waiting for Devlin (Cary Grant) at her apartment with dinner ready. She’s cooked a chicken and has decided that they would “eat in style” out on the balcony which overlooks Rio de Janeiro. I know how testy folks get on the internet when”spoilers” are revealed however, at this point, I’ll add the disclaimer that if you’re partial to watching movies without prior knowledge then stop reading here otherwise it might get ugly. I guess I’m of the mind that if you haven’t seen a 70 year old film by now then spoilers really don’t matter much. If you haven’t seen it (and you don’t mind an old B&W) watch it. It truly is one of the greats (and one of my personal, all-time favs).

So if you haven’t seen it let me tell you that this post will not be about film theory, history, politics, etc. I was inspired by a scene where the dinner is almost a footnote, used to illustrate Alicia’s desire for a “normal,” domestic relationship with Devlin. What you need to know (if you haven’t seen it) is that:

  • Alicia’s father was Nazi, who was convicted of treason
  • She has a promiscuous past and trouble with booze (I mean, her father was a Nazi. It’s no wonder she has a few issues!)
  • She’s in love with Devlin and makes her feelings known but gets no glimmer of feeling back from Devlin
  • Devlin is an emotionally broken individual who loves Alicia but can’t say it because he’s prejudice against her past
  • part of her “assignment” is to infiltrate a Nazi group in Rio and “cozy” up to a former friend of her father’s — Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains)

When I first saw this film 20 years ago I was in high school and a bit naive. I “read” this film as a love story and found it super romantic. Then I found myself in a Uni course on Hitchcock films and when this film came up I was so excited! During a class discussion the prof asked me why and I spoke about how romantic I found the film. Needless to say no one else found it romantic and many were aghast because they saw the relationship between Dev and Alicia as very dyfunctional bordering on sadistic — 50 Shades hadn’t happened yet (they were right though and in truth the dynamics of that relationship almost get Alicia killed in the end). At any rate, I still find romance in this film (Cary Grant is a dreamboat!) and I think the scene where she cooks Dev supper makes me wonder what I’d be cooking if Cary Grant Dev was going to be walking through my door. It’s like “Fantasy Football” except with food and movies.

Earlier in the film the audience is introduced to Alicia’s amazing apartment with incredible views:

During that scene we come to understand that, although they are in Rio on “assignment” (spies working against the Nazis), they are beginning to fall in love and form a deep bond. Forces beyond their control (CIA) conspire against this newly budding romance and ultimately the dinner is never enjoyed because by the time Dev returns from the meeting with his superiors his love for Alicia is as stone cold as her dinner.

I love the way she’s set the table! If I were the set designer (especially for Hitchcock who loved to imbibe all aspects of his films with meanings) I’d be choosing a floral arrangement that would telegraph to the viewer her love for him. Have a look at this Design * Sponge article Flowers Don’t Have to Be Red to Mean “Love.”  For the choice of dinner settings I think I would go with something timeless like (Denby’s new Natural Canvas line — photo is from their website I’ve added the link for interest sake, I’m not sponsored by them and if you click the link I will receive no money or consideration):

Finally for the meal I would be totally channeling Heidi Swanson  — I love her vibe and the image she has curated (not to mention the amazing recipes found in her Super Natural Every Day and Near & Far — I love how she takes inspiration from her travels and develops recipes that reflect her cultural and travel experiences). One of my most favourite dishes (of all-time) is her Miso-Curry Delicata Squash w/ tofu, kale, cilantro, potatoes, & pepitas — have a look! I think that this film is full of international, jet-setting characters who would appreciate the sophisticate (yet simple and elegant) way Swanson has with food. Can you picture the new dinner scene that I’m laying before you?

Although the film is so much more than the ruined chicken dinner in that scene, if I were to perfect it (the scene and maybe rehabilitate that dinner) this is how I might do it. As it stands the ruin supper works to illustrate some of the complex themes Hitchcock is developing throughout the film. Look at it: where love can’t exist, dinner certainly doesn’t and where hate is, food becomes sinister and life-threatening (when Sebastian and his mother discover her deceit they decide to poison her and make it look like she’s mysteriously getting sick so that both the CIA and their Nazi friends won’t know they’ve dicovered/been duped by Alicia).

Just to let you know I’m taking a short break but I’ll be back in two weeks with a new cookbook review! Hope you’ve enjoyed my first three installments of Film & Food Fridays. Have a great weekend everyone!



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