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Review: A Touch of Spice

Mix historical drama, nostalgic coming-of-age soap opera, and more cooking metaphors than even Julia Child would be able to stomach, and the resultant concoction is A Touch of Spice.

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A Touch of Spice
Photo: Menemsha Films

Mix historical drama, nostalgic coming-of-age soap opera, and more cooking metaphors than even Julia Child would be able to stomach, and the resultant concoction is A Touch of Spice, Greek director Tassos Boulmetis’s semi-autobiographical stew of ungainly plotting and gooey schmaltz. When his grandfather doesn’t show up for a reunion lunch attended by his best friends, Greek astrophysicist Fanis (Georges Corraface) reminisces about his childhood in Istanbul with Gramps (Tassos Bandis), a neighborhood spice salesman who can’t open his mouth without blurting out some pseudo-profound aphorism about the relationship between seasonings, the cosmos, and love. The young Fanis (Markos Osse) is unjustifiably smitten with his elder’s words of wisdom, which he applies to his relationship with a young girl named Saime (Basak Koklukaya) whom he teaches to cook in exchange for some private dances in the attic. When Greek-Turkey relationships go south over Cyprus—a bit of real-world context so cursorily addressed that it feels as contrived as the rest of the proceedings—Fanis and his parents are deported to Greece, where Fanis’s fondness for cooking gets him into hot water with both his ultra-nationalist teachers and his father (Ieroklis Michaelidis), who fears such a pastime will turn him into “pansy.” With a haphazard flashback structure given no greater coherence by title cards that divide the film into “Appetizers,” “Main Course,” and “Desserts,” Touch of Spice goes heavy on the cutesiness, from Grandpa giving Fanis astronomy lessons with spices (because, don’t you see, the word “gastronomer” contains within it the word “astronomer”!), to Fanis being enrolled in the Boy Scouts by Dad as a means of confirming the family’s jingoism to the powers-that-be (apparently, male cooks are considered unpatriotic in Greece?), and winding up as the chef at a cozy brothel. Awful CG landscapes of Istanbul, a scattershot narrative that fails to create any urgency or intimacy, myriad characters who spout only greeting card-ready adages, and a decayed central food metaphor fit for choking on all weigh down director Boulmetis’s overstuffed eat-drink-boy-grandpa mush.

Cast: Georges Corraface, Ieroklis Michaelidis, Renia Louizidous, Tamer Karadagli, Basak Koklukaya, Tassos Bandis, Stelios Mainas, Markos Osse Director: Tassos Boulmetis Screenwriter: Tassos Boulmetis Distributor: Menemsha Films Running Time: 108 min Rating: NR Year: 2003 Buy: Video

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