Saturday, November 9, 2019

Nate Hood's 400 words on NOTHING FANCY: DIANA KENNEDY (2019) DOC NYC 2019

To look at her, she couldn't be more than five feet tall nor less than two hundred years old. As this old British lady hobbles out of bed and slow roasts her coffee in an antique pan for twenty precise minutes, we imagine someone doggedly clinging to the past and, more importantly, the pace of life before the advent of smart phones and social media. Squirreled away in her beautiful estate in Michoacán, Mexico, she seems the Platonian ideal of a grandmother. At least until she opens her mouth and lets loose a torrent of profanity that would catch a sailor off guard. Diana Kennedy may be in her mid nineties, but she's lost none of the vim and vigor that made her one of the world's leading experts on Mexican food, equally notorious for her fanatical devotion to the cuisine of her adopted homeland and her scowling crustiness—imagine Maggie Smith crossed with Mary Berry.

The brilliance of Elizabeth Carroll's new documentary Nothing Fancy: Diana Kennedy is how it balances these two aspects of her personality, perfectly illustrating her life-long love affair with Mexican cooking while embracing instead of downplaying her truculent coarseness. The first half of the film dutifully recounts Kennedy's life for the uninitiated: after vacationing in Veracruz with her new husband after leaving the army following World War Two, she fell in love with Mexico and spent the next fifty years road-tripping throughout it meticulously documenting regional cuisines and the cultures that created them. Flash-forward several cookbooks, cooking classes, and television shows later and Kennedy has become such an integral part of Mexican food culture that she received the Order of the Aztec Eagle award by the Mexican government for her contributions. (Carroll sidesteps any potential controversies about Kennedy, a white British woman, being one of the largest figures in Mexican food. She is, though, careful to include interviews with chefs José Andrés (Spain) and Pati Jinich (Mexico) where they authenticate her bona fides.)

There's plenty of the food porn one would expect, but the film veers sharply into the melancholy in the last half where Kennedy shares her fears and frustrations towards the state of the world, particularly climate change and the loss of traditional Mexican food culture to fast-food modernity. As she mutters at one point: "What are you going to do when I’m gone? Who’s going to start screaming?”

Rating 7/10

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