Love and Lemons: San Sebastian Review

Food-flavored romantic comedy from Sweden is slight but pungent.

Director Teresa Fabik's Swedish film follows a young woman who dreams of becoming a chef.

For the past three years, San Sebastian, following the example of the Berlin Film Festival, has paired several screenings with dinners at excellent local restaurants. This year one of the picks for the Culinary Cinema section was the Swedish film Love and Lemons. Director Teresa Fabik said afterward that she didn’t really think of her film as a festival movie.  And it is indeed lighter than many of the official selections in the festival. But that made it a nice counterpoint to the heavier fare, something of an aperitif rather than a meaty main course.

The premise is not the most original. A young woman with dreams of becoming a chef joins up with a partner to start a new restaurant. Her mother agrees to pour all her savings into the venture, and there are many setbacks before the inevitable happy ending. Fabik admitted that she considered Ratatouille as one of her inspirations, but the film also recalls the German film Mostly Martha, as well as its American remake with Catherine Zeta-Jones, No Reservations. Thanks to the appealing cast and a number of clever touches in the script, the derivative nature of the picture doesn’t seriously detract from its likability. It could attract a modest audience at American art houses and might even lend itself to an English-language remake.

At the start, Agnes (Rakel Warmlander) is fired from a chic restaurant by a pompous chef who becomes her nemesis throughout the rest of the movie. On that same night, her rock singer boyfriend (Richard Ulfsater) dumps her for a more glamorous playmate. With her life at a low ebb, she agrees to join some old friends in trying to launch their own restaurant. Her love life also improves when she meets a gawky but appealing neighbor, David (Sverrir Gudnason), who just happens to be a feared food critic. Agnes decides to court him in order to earn a favorable review, but her plan backfires, and the restaurant soon teeters on the brink of bankruptcy.

It isn’t hard to predict the outcome of all this turmoil, but there are many sweet, funny moments along the way to the rousing but pat conclusion. Agnes’ relationship with her parents is warmly drawn, and the romantic triangle unfolds with raw humor as well as poignancy. Warmlander holds the movie together with her earthy appeal. An additional asset, pretty much required in a culinary comedy, is that the food is gorgeously photographed by Fabik and cinematographer Anders Bohman. It all adds up to a flavorful repast, even if it doesn’t leave a very substantial aftertaste.

Venue:  San Sebastian Film Festival

Cast:  Rakel Warmlander, Sverrir Gudnasson, Richard Ulfsater, Dan Ekborg, Josephine Bornebusch, Tomas Von Bromssen, Anki Liden

Director: Teresa Fabik

Screenwriter: Lars V. Johansson

Based on the novel by: Kajsa Ingemarsson

Producer: Pontus Sjoman

Executive producers:  Michael Hjorth, Fredrik Wikstrom

Director of photography: Anders Bohman

Production designer: Dave Marshall

Costume designer: Sara Pertmann

Editor: Hakan Karlsson

Music: Klas Baggstrom, Anders Niska

No rating, 98 minutes

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