It’s cold outside. The days are short. One of my most treasured activities this time of year, other than cooking in a warm kitchen, is curling up on the sofa with my dog and watching movies. If you have not seen Big Night starring Stanley Tucci, please promise me that you will watch it as soon as possible. It has every necessary component of an Italian food lover’s desires: beautiful cinematography of cooking and kitchen scenes, handsome Italian men and beautiful women enjoying the pure sensuality of mouth-watering Italian dishes. It was filmed in 1996 and is set on the New Jersey shore in the 1950’s.
No spoiler alerts, but it is the story of two brothers from Abruzzo, Italy. Secondo, the younger brother, played by Stanley Tucci, feels he must assimilate into American culture in order to make the restaurant successful, while his older brother, Primo, the quixotic, genius chef, refuses to sacrifice the beauty and simplicity of Italian cuisine for a watered-down American-Italian version that has become popular on the east coast.
Some of the best scenes in the film take place in the rustic restaurant kitchen. It is nothing fancy, but like a well warm pair of shoes, it makes you want to be there. Everything is visually inviting from the ladles, pots and pans hanging above the stove top, to the wooden rolling pins atop the a marble cutting board table, the salamis hanging from nails and sharp kitchen knives clinging to magnetic strips. When the two brothers are alone in the kitchen, all of the drama in their lives melts away and they are back in Italy, alone with the food. It is in the kitchen where the brothers are truly themselves. It is magic.
Cooking lessons are expertly woven into the plot. We learn how to mix the eggs into fresh pasta and how to roll penne on a pasta square. We learn that if you mince the garlic too fine, it will overpower the dish, and that it is best to use Arborio rice for the most delicious pesto risotto. Like I said, this film has everything.
Every genre has its own climatic scene; in action films, it is the big car chase, in love stories, it is the final kiss. But in Big Night, it all comes down to the sacred Italian supper that lasts for hours; la zuppa, i primi, and i secondi and finally i dolci (soup, first and second courses, and dessert). It is a powerful tribute to Italian culture, Italian cuisine, and is touching and educational. It also stars Minnie Driver, Isabella Rossellini, and music by Louis Prima.
Please send a comment and let me know what you think of the film.
What is your favorite Italian film? Do you have a favorite film about cooking, food or chefs? Maybe we can compile a list and work our way through the list during these long winter nights, while drinking wine and eating pasta, of course.