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From Eat Drink Man Woman to The Lunchbox, get home cooking inspiration from these five movies

South China Morning Post logo South China Morning Post 13/1/2021 James Marsh
a person standing in a kitchen preparing food: The Lunchbox stars Nimrat Kaur as a housewife who regularly prepares lunches to be delivered to her husband. The Lunchbox stars Nimrat Kaur as a housewife who regularly prepares lunches to be delivered to her husband.

As coronavirus lockdowns persist and restaurants have either closed or seen their opening hours limited, many people around the world have been forced to cook for themselves.

If you are one of them we hope you find some culinary inspiration from these films about the healing power of home cooking.

Babette's Feast (1987)

Babette (Stephane Audran), once a celebrated chef, flees the violence of post-revolution Paris, seeking refuge in the modest Jutland home of elderly sisters Filippa (Bodil Kjer) and Martine (Birgitte Federspiel). Their late father was a strict pastor, and his pious doctrine still has hold over the remote community.

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To celebrate the 100th anniversary of his birth, Babette secretly spends all her savings on an extravagant French meal, as a sign of gratitude to her hosts. The feast includes turtle soup, roasted quail, caviar and many fine wines. Initially reluctant to indulge in such sinful pleasures, the food has something akin to a spiritual impact on the disciplined diners.

Adapted from a short story by Karen Blixen (Out of Africa) and starring some of the biggest stars of European cinema, Babette's Feast was the first Danish film to be awarded the Oscar for best foreign language film. It was such a sensation when released that restaurants across the US served special recreations of the film's transformative banquet.

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Eat Drink Man Woman (1994)

The family in Ang Lee's home-grown masterpiece is equally susceptible to the healing powers of a fine home-cooked meal. In modern day Taipei, three adult sisters, played by Yang Kuei-mei, Wu Chien-lien and Wang Yu-wen, juggle their professional lives and romantic woes with their responsibilities to their ageing father.

A retired top chef, now widowed, Chu (Lung Sihung) wiles away his final years recreating gastronomic masterpieces at home. He knows that no matter where their careers and relationships may take them, his incredible cooking will always entice his daughters back to his dining table.

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Lee shows us how Chinese family life is epitomised by regular gatherings around the dinner table, and how love and affection are so often meted out, not through words, but by the preparation and consumption of food. His camera lingers as Chu prepares a host of incredible traditional dishes, and viewers' stomachs will be growling long before Lee drops a hilarious bombshell at the film's climax.

The Lunchbox (2013)

It is often said that the fastest way to a man's heart is through his stomach, and the romantic power of a lovingly prepared meal cannot be understated. That is certainly the case in Ritesh Batra's hugely successful romance, even if the meal in question ends up in the wrong man's stomach.

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Serving as a brilliant documentary on Mumbai's intricate network of dabbawalas, who transport home-cooked meals across the city to thousands of office workers every day, The Lunchbox stars the late great Irffan Khan as a middle-aged widower contemplating retirement. When he is mistakenly delivered a lunchbox from Nimrat Kaur's housewife, intended for her increasingly distant husband, he sends a note of thanks and ignites an intimate correspondence between two lonely hearts.

The film sparked controversy when it was snubbed by India's selection committee to represent the country at the Oscars that year, despite receiving almost unanimous acclaim at both the Cannes and Toronto Film Festivals and becoming an international box office hit. Their reasoning? Dabbawalas never make mistakes.

Little Forest (2018)

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The healing power of home cooking doesn't only benefit the consumer. For some, the preparation can be equally therapeutic. In Little Forest, Yim Soon-rye's adaptation of the manga by Daisuke Igarashi, a young woman seeks solace in the wholesome recipes created by her absent mother.

Kim Tae-ri, best known for her breakout role in Park Chan-wook's The Handmaiden , plays Song Hye-won, who returns to her rural hometown after failing to find success in the big city. She arrives home to discover that her mother (Moon So-ri) has gone, but has left her free use of the house and its bountiful kitchen garden.

What follows is a beautifully understated, almost poetic celebration of self-improvement and self-sufficiency, thanks to the natural abundance of healthy vegetarian food. Over the course of a year, Hye-won's lifestyle and cooking options adapt and change with the seasons, and the culinary results are never anything less than mouth-watering, even for the most dedicated of carnivores.

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Julie & Julia (2009)

Self-improvement is also on the menu for the two protagonists of Nora Ephron's unashamedly sweet-toothed adaptation of Julie Powell's eponymous publication, and cooking icon Julia Child's memoir My Life in France.

Amy Adams plays Powell, an intrepid New York-based blogger who challenged herself to cook all 524 recipes from Child's book Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a single year. Simultaneously, we follow Child (Meryl Streep) as she bumbles her way through Cordon Bleu school in 1940s Paris, on her way to becoming a national institution.

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From setting aspic to deboning ducks, what unfolds is lightweight cinematic fare to be sure, but a likeable Adams and a hilariously soused Streep ensure the endeavour is a wholly palatable, somewhat sinful confection that is sure to inspire the most reluctant of cooks to venture into the kitchen.

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This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.

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