18 Meals -- Film Review

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TAORMINA, Sicily -- Jorge Coira juggles numerous plates -- some underdone, others overcooked -- in "18 Meals," winner of the Best Director Award at this year's Taormina Film Festival. Shot over nine days, the project began as a series of improvisations but very well-paced editing and a top-grade ensemble cast makes for an enjoyable, if not entirely filling, spread.

And spread it is over nearly 20 characters and one day's meals in Santiago de Compostable, interspersed by scenes of an elderly couple wordlessly eating, their weathered faces the very metronomes of the ritualistic, metered passing of time to which Coira pays homage.

The film immediately informs us that, every day, half a million meals are prepared in the small Spanish city alone. Many are small and inconsequential, though some take an unexpected turn to change the flavor of our lives forever. Which is precisely what this Altman-esque (in structure, not in tone) blend of light drama and frothy comedy serves up with ease, to whet the appetites of festival programmers and commercial audiences hungry for an undemanding but never mindless snack.

In act one, "Breakfast," many of the film's nearly 20 characters are introduced, almost all of whom pass by street musician Edu (Luis Tosar) as the city awakens. Among the most prominent, actor Vladimir (Pedro Alsono) prepares a romantic breakfast (then lunch and dinner) for a woman that never shows while his friend Luca (Xose Barato) wakes up after what he soon discovers was just a one-night stand for Nuria (Cristina Brondo).

Two-timing, traveling businessman Juan (Juan Carlos Vellido) picks up barista Ana (Camila Bossa) on his way to lunch at his brother Victor's (Victor Fabregas) house. Preparations for said meal involve Victor's lover Sergio (Sergio Peris-Mencheta) cooking as Victor removes all traces of their romantic life for the benefit of his oblivious sibling.

Other stories take shape over "Lunch," primarily that of the married Sol (Esperanza Pedreno), who invites long-lost suitor Edu to her house for a tense, embarrassing meal. They turn out to be the film's main course (along with Victor and Sergio), in an encounter whose slow simmer reveals Sol's unnerving marital desolation and, as expected, another nuanced performance from Tosar. Meanwhile, Juan's hypocritical belligerence pushes Victor's closeted tension to the breaking point, and his eruption offers genuinely touching relief.

"Dinner" is the weakest act, though it does explain why Nuria gave Lucas the boot. But Coira could easily have done without the under-developed subplots of a comely cook (Nuncy Valcarcel) and her fatal singing audition, and a shifty yet good-natured Macedonian immigrant (Milan Tocinovksi).

Venue: Taormina Film Festival
Production companies: Tic Tac Producciones, Zircozine, Lagarto Cine
Sales: Tic Tac Producciones
Cast: Luis Tosar, Victor Clavijo, Esperanza Pedreno, Pedro Alsono, Nuncy Valcarcel, Camila Bossa, Juan Carlos Vellido, Xose Barato, Cristina Brondo, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Milan Tocinovksi
Director/editor: Jorge Coira
Screenwriters: Coira, Araceli Gonda, Diego Ameixeiras
Producers: Fernanda del Nido, Farruco Castroman, Tosar, Hugo Castro Fau
Director of photography: Brand Ferro
Production designer: Antonio Pereira
Music: Piti Sanz, Ivan Laxe
Costume designer: Mariana Razzetti
No rating, 105 minutes
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