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Spanish director Isabel Coixet hasn’t posted to her food blog in the last couple of years, but read a few of her descriptive older posts and you quickly grasp why she calls herself “food obsessed.”
The idea for Foodie Love, the new HBO Europe series that marks a first foray into television for the veteran director of films like Elisa & Marcela and My Life Without Me, came naturally to her.
“For me, Foodie Love is a way to use all the years eating in the most incredible restaurants in the world, and also in the strangest places,” says the Barcelona-based Coixet, whose Miss Wasabi Films banner also produces. “I was convinced it would be something people would love.”
The eight half-hour episodes of HBO Europe’s first Spanish drama began airing in Spain on Dec. 4 and will premiere across Europe on Christmas day. In Spain it’s already been nominated for two Feroz Awards — film and TV honors given annually by the Association of Cinematographic Reporters of Spain — for best dramatic series and best lead actress in a series.
The story turns on two lonely 30-something professionals who find each other on a foodie app and begin meeting regularly at distinctive eateries. At first the characters, played by Spain’s Laia Costa and Argentina-born Guillermo Pfening, are just looking for companionship.
“One of the things about foodie people is we really like to share. When you know a place and the food is amazing, you want to take people,” Coixet explains. “You feel very disappointed if they don’t like it.”
“You can eat alone but it’s better if you share with someone.”
As they travel and eat their way through cities in Spain, France and Italy, the two discover they share more than just a passion for food (and a disdain for pretentious foodies). “It’s a very romantic story,” Coixet says.
Coixet “did a tremendous job creating the right chemistry between Laia Costa and Guillermo Pfening, who had never met before production,” says Miguel Salvat, commissioning editor of original programming at HBO España and executive producer on the series with HBO Europe’s Steve Matthews and Antony Root.
Costa, the first foreign actress to win a Lola for her role in German film Victoria in 2015, says she had an immediate reaction to the script. “You get to the end of the season and you realize these characters are even more complicated and have more layers than you thought, and you want to go back and re-watch the eight episodes all at once and see the details.”
Both actors say they were drawn to the project to work with Coixet, known for her intimate, largely female-focused stories set and shot all over the world, including The Secret Life of Words (Venice International Film Festival selection), Map of the Sounds of Tokyo (Cannes International Film Festival selection) and The Bookshop, starring Emily Mortimer and Bill Nighy — winner of the Goya Award for best film in 2018.
“I’ve always admired her because she’s from here but she’s always done what she wanted career-wise,” says Costa, who — like Coixet — is from Barcelona. “She’s directed, she’s written, she’s operated the camera — she’s a creator in the best sense of the word. Calling her a director is to fall short because she does it all and she leaves her personal stamp. That inspires me.”
Pfening, known internationally for his 2017 Tribeca best actor turn in Nobody’s Watching, agrees: “For me it was a unique combo of Coixet and Laia. We are constantly surprised — she surprises us and we surprise each other. The text is a work in motion that takes us to different places. She gives us a lot of freedom, but also knows when to rein us in. She’s constantly bringing in new ideas, constantly creating.”
Part of Coixet’s creative process on Foodie Love involved bringing in four different directors or photography, each of whom worked on two episodes of the first season.“I think the result on the screen is magnificent,” says Salvat. “Technically she is extremely acute and efficient and she knows exactly what she wants.”
Costa and Pfening both say they’d be on board for more seasons, a renewal Salvat will neither confirm nor deny: “Maybe it’s a bit early to discuss further seasons, although Isabel has tons of ideas to develop and explore her favorite two ecosystems: food and relationships.”
For now, he says, “Foodie Love can be a wonderful Christmas present for HBO Europe customers during a time when everything revolves around personal relationships and wonderful food.”
Asked what food best describes her, Coixet goes into great detail about the anchovies with sticky-sweet dulce de leche paste made popular at Barcelona’s La Pepita bar, the subject of one of her very first blog posts and the setting for the final episode of the debut season of Foodie Love.
“When I tried that, when they opened the restaurant many years ago, I thought: this is me,” Coixet says. “It’s very intense in terms of flavor, but it’s also salty and sweet and strange.”
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