Hungry for love?

They say the easiest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. They also say that if you make dinner for a woman, she’ll appreciate you forever.

I don’t know who “they” are, but I agree with them.

Today is Valentine’s Day, which most probably already knew. If you didn’t remember, trouble certainly awaits you. But to the lucky majority who did remember, the songs of lovebirds will be interrupted by romantic meals. Since there are too many movies about love to possibly sort through in order to make a coherent list, this is a group of movies that are about food – with just a dash of romance in the recipe.

Big Night

When Primo (Tony Shalhoub) and Secondo (Stanley Tucci) emigrate from Italy to open a restaurant in America, their success is inhibited by the uncultured pallet of the average American diner. Primo is the ingenious chef who refuses to compromise his gustatory art just to make a profit. Secondo is desperate to keep the restaurant financially afloat, berating his brother for not compromising in the interest of paying the rent.

Secondo goes to Pascal (Ian Holm), a local restaurant owner who makes immense profits selling “compromised” Italian cuisine, for advice. Pascal informs Secondo of an opportunity to impress a famous Italian-American bandleader, and the “big night” that can save the brothers’ restaurant is on. What follows is a tale of compromise versus integrity with a charming tale of romance intertwined that never forgets how food and love go hand in hand.

The Scent of Green Papaya

This Vietnamese film relies very little on plot and almost seems tactile in its expression of individual human moments. Broken into two halves, the film shows the main character, Mui, at two very different stages in her life, 10 years apart. Mui at age 10 is played by Man San Lu, while Mui at 20 is played by Tran Nu Yen-Khe. There is very little dialogue, and a lot of time goes by with the characters barely uttering a syllable.

Mui is the servant girl of an aristocratic family, but when times get tough, she is sent to the house of a wealthy young man. As they live out their days together, they must deal with their emotions for one another that cross class distinctions. Such minimalistic dialogue and plot is a startling and beautiful expression of how nonverbal communication can be. The movie ensnares the viewer in the minutiae of everyday life – albeit of the Vietnamese sort – and expresses a humanity relevant to all cultures.

It’s a brave film, using a style that could easily be boring if carried out improperly. In the style of My Dinner with Andre and The Straight Story, it is all the more bewitching because of its simplicity.

Bread and Tulips

This was one of the most popular movies in Italian cinema, and it’s easy to see why. When a tour bus leaves without her, Rosalba Barletta (Licia Maglietta) is separated from her recalcitrant teenage sons and her cheating husband Mimmo (Antonio Catania), who tells her not to bother catching up. Instead, she decides to hitchhike to Venice. She has little money and no friends to help her, but she finds a flat with Fernando Girasoli (Bruno Ganz), who is a waiter at a nearby diner.

Surprisingly enough, there is a total lack of sexual references, the physical attraction between Fernando and Rosalba only becoming apparent at the film’s end. This doesn’t take away from the charm of the movie in any unrealistic way, but rather adds to it. The real point of the movie is a housewife’s self-actualization and the man who takes her in and finds solace in her company. The romance involved is never cloying, but very realistic in its expression of both the ups and downs regarding the matters of the heart. It may be a cliched idea, surfacing in various cookie-cutter films starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, but the delicacy with which Bread and Tulips handles the subject matter redeems it of any relationship to Sleepless in Seattle or You’ve Got Mail.Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Although not a romantic movie in the traditional sense, this movie is romantic because it manages to see the world through the eyes of a child. It’s so good, in fact, that it frees itself from classification as a musical.

Gene Wilder plays Willy Wonka, the confectionary genius. When Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum) wins a golden ticket to tour Wonka’s mysterious factory, a surreal adventure ensues.

I don’t need to explain it, do I? See it again, and stay away from the diluted remake. After all, the most delicious things are worth a second helping.