A Touch of Spice -- Film Review

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NEW YORK -- Director-screenwriter Tassos Boulmetis' charming "A Touch of Spice," Greece's 2005 Oscar entry and that nation's all-time boxoffice hit, doesn't achieve the magic and impact of the similarly themed 1980s foodie classic "Babette's Feast," a more-concentrated adventure in culinary passion. But his cinematic evocation of the allure of spices and how they provide a critical through-line in the life of a middle-aged teacher packs delectable elements.

Without biting off more than it can chew, the film also works as a coming-of-age tale, a short history lesson about late-20th century Turkish-Greek conflicts and a romance that might or might not end sweetly.

No doubt autobiographical, the story centers on Fanis Iakovidis (George Corraface as an adult), who grows up in a tightknit Greek Orthodox family in Constantinople (now Istanbul). The 7-year-old Fanis learns about spices and their many meanings -- cinnamon, sweet and bitter, is like a woman; salt makes everything come to life but is invisible, etc. -- from his beloved grandfather Vasilis (Tassos Bandis), who owns a spice store.

Tragedy strikes during the early 1960s when Turkish-Greek tensions force the deportation to Greece of Fanis and his parents, Savvas (Ieroklis Michaelidis) and Soultana (Renia Louizidou). Left behind are Vasilis and Fanis' adored friend Saime (Basak Koklukaya).

When the Greek junta takes over later in the decade, a young, uniformed Fanis moonlights as a cook in a brothel. The Turkish invasion of Cyprus only creates more barriers between Fanis and his mentor/grandfather. Finally, though, the present holds hope as successful academic Fanis learns Vasilis really is on his way, and he prepares a wonderful feast for their reunion.

"Spice" is full of colorful family moments and flavored with observations like the role of spices in provoking wars. Takis Zervoulakos' elegant camerawork serves up painterly, magical shots of condiments, lavish banquets and mysterious spaces.

Boulmetis' direction masters all elements, and his structure, bolstered by Fanis' occasional voiceovers, provides the appropriate chronological chapters "Appetizers," "Main Course" and "Dessert."

Opened: Friday, April 24 (Menemsha Films)
Production: Village Roadshow Prods.
Cast: George Corraface, Basak Koklukaya, Tamer Karadagli, Tassos Bandis, Markos Osse, Ieroklis Michaelidis, Renia Louizidou, Odysseas Papaspiliopoulos, Stelios Mainas
Director-screenwriter: Tassos Boulmetis
Producer: Lily Papadopoulos
Executive producers: Harry Antonopoulos, Robert Kirby
Director of photography: Takis Zervoulakos
Set decorator: Olga Leontiadou
Music: Evanthia Reboutsika
Costume designer: Bianca Nikolarizi
Editor: Yorgos Mavropsaridis
No MPAA rating, 108 minutes
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