A fantastical Spanish drama receives Arrow’s treatment

Note: Like Water for Chocolate’s Blu-ray is available direct from Arrow and is locked to Region B

Growing up in the early 90’s I remember hearing about a film called “Como Agua Para Chocolate.” Translated into English for American audiences it was Like Water For Chocolate. It certainly was scalding chocolate at that. The film arrived from Mexico as Alfonso Arau’s calling card into the filmmaking elite (Arau would later direct A Walk in the Clouds, which received critical acclaim) and eventually became the highest grossing Spanish language film of the time.

Almost 25 years later here I am reviewing the Arrow Films Blu-ray release of that epic classic. Like Water For Chocolate is the story of a wealthy Mexican family living in a giant house on the edge of a majestic cliff overlooking the water. Elena (Regina Torne) is the mother of three girls. Tita (Lumi Cavazo), Rosaura (Yareli Arizmendi), and Gertrudis (Claudette Maille) are Elena’s daughters and they have their peculiar and non-peculiar traits. The story focuses on the youngest daughter Tita. She’s basically condemned to a life of indentured servitude caring for her mother until her mother dies – never mind that her mother has several servants at house. It’s a twisted tradition Elena has going. She cannot marry or have any responsibilities outside of the household.

Like Water For Chocolate is a tale of forbidden love due to circumstance and tradition

A bit of sister rivalry creeps in here and there but Tita is given the light to shine. One day Tita is proposed to by Pedro (Marco Leonardi) and is quickly shot down by Tita’s mother. Instead, Elena, offers up her other daughter Rosaura. Pedro agrees to that but only to be near Tita. Yes, it’s that kind of party. As the days and years pass on the family endure much prosperity and much madness. Like Water For Chocolate is a tale of forbidden love due to circumstance and tradition but there’s a morose component to the story that makes the whole tale bittersweet.

You’ll know you’re in for a surreal treat when you see Elena give birth to Tita and instead of being born of blood, it’s literally salt water. When the water dries off into salt it is used to cook and ends up feeding and sustaining the family for a long time thereafter. This connection to food is Tita’s gift, because when she cooks, she cooks with love and that translates into some of the best grub folks have ever had. The after effects are downright orgasmic. It is a double-edged sword, because if Tita is upset or sad and happens to cook then the trauma of her emotions transfer over into the food and hijinks ensue. These fantastical elements chance the story and do play off well stylistically and for a few laughs when folks get an unexpected case of the squirts.  Laura Esquivel adapted the screenplay from her own novel. She was also married to director Alfonso Arau for many years and together they nurtured the project.

As the story moves forward it’s clear that Tita and Pedro were meant to be together but it’s really never as clear cut as that. The film spans roughly 20 years but is book-ended by a clever breaking of the fourth wall sequence(s).

Movie ★★★★☆ 

Like Water for Chocolate Blu-ray screen shot 11

As it stands – and if you are region-free – Arrow Films’ release of Like Water For Chocolate on Blu-ray is the way to go if you’re considering purchasing the film.

Like Water For Chocolate is presented in 1.85:1 (high definition) taken from 35 mm elements. The visual aesthetic of the film makes it look a bit dated but the film is set during the first part of the 20th century. The family lives in a big house on a cliff overlooking the ocean or what could be considered a large river. Rio Grande perhaps? It’s never explained.

Contrast levels do seem boosted but I’d wager that that’s due to the natural light used during the shoot. Film grain is kept intact and there are few spots that did not appear film-like. Softness was never an issue. Sharpness levels are on point. Crush was visible in a small number of scenes. The worst, taking place at night, appeared deep and inky for the most part. Arrow Films obviously grabbed the best available source for the transfer, so wherever this came from it’s the best one on the market.

Video ★★★☆☆ 

Like Water For Chocolate is presented in Spanish DTS-HD MA 5.1, with optional English subtitles. There also a few scenes where characters speak English which are not subtitled. A stereo track is also included for your listening pleasure.

The film’s audio will not win any awards for bombast, but then again, it’s not that kind of film. It’s primarily dialogue driven and if I hadn’t checked to see if it was a 5.1 lossless track I would not have known the difference. It has a centered sound field – dialogue, effects, etc.; they’re all in the front. They’re not a jumbled mess by any means but the clear channel separation is lacking. Overall, the soundtrack quality is average.

Audio ★★★☆☆ 

Like Water For Chocolate is not a fully loaded affair in terms of supplements. We are treated to a cool audio commentary (in Spanish, with English subtitles) by Director Alfonso Arau and Actors Lumi Cavazos and Marco Leonardi. That’s pretty much it. It’s a decent piece and every one gets along great 23 years later.

Lumi mentions that the film has literally been with her half her life now since she’s 46 years of age. She was 23 when she starred in the film. Leonardi talks about what it was like starring in a Mexican film and the barriers he had to overcome by being an Italian actor. I do wish we had more special features included but the commentary is a good one. Oh, and a bit of gossip: Lumi and Marco were in a long-term relationship from 1991-1999. I’ll go out on limb and say that that’s why some of the recipes came out oh so very spicy. You’re welcome.

Extras ★★☆☆☆ 

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.


Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.