29 July 2011 | meddlecore
An Uniquely Canadian Example Of Bizarro-Diasporic Cinema
If someone were asked to describe what Canadian Cinema is, they might respond that there are two Cinema's in Canada; one being from Quebec, and the other being, well, from the rest of Canada. But if you had to pick one element of Canadian Cinema that permeates both of these realms; an element that proves to be a reflection of Canadian Society as a whole- it would be that of the "Diasporic" film, of which Dilip Mehta's "Cooking With Stella" is a wonderfully funny example.
"Diasporic Cinema" (diaspora's are mass migrations of people from one place to another) has become an important part of Canadian Film Culture, as it reflects our nation's rich diversity and multiculturalism, of which we are so proud. These films are made by recent immigrants or first generation Canadians who have grown up in an immigrant family; whose stories and storytelling techniques reflect how they are dealing with the culture blend (as opposed to clash) that comes with immigrating from "the old world" to a place like Canada.
Dilip Mehta's sister Deepa is one of our best and most renown filmmakers. The influence that her films have had on her brother's style of filmmaking are obvious. This film could be canonized alongside two of Deepa's films to form the, "Mehta Diaspora Trilogy". Starting with the moving and funny "Sam & Me (1991), followed up by what could be described as the epitome of the Diaspora film, her part Western Romantic Comedy part Bollywood "Bollywood/Hollywood" (2002), and concluded here with this great bizarro-Diaspora Film.
What's so great about "Cooking With Stella" is that it is like a Diaspora Film, but everything is in reverse. It is a film that shows how Western- in this case Canadian- culture has immigrated to other places, where it has had an influence on and blended with these well established cultures on their home front.
It tells the story of Maya (Lisa Ray), who is working for the Canadian government as a diplomat in Delhi with her husband Michael (Don McKellar)- a chef looking to broaden his horizons- and their newborn baby, where they will be living on the grounds of the Canadian Consolate. While Maya goes to work Michael acts as the homemaker, which is quite a shock for their cook and servant Stella (Seema Biswas). A second shock hits Stella when she realizes that Maya- who is half-Indian, Half-Polish and all Canadian- speaks no Hindi and has had practically no immersion into Indian culture whatsoever (she's always too busy to care, it seems, anyways). Their condo is decorated with Canadian decor, from posters from the Montreal Olympics to an Ottawa Senators picture and portrait of the Canadian hockey team. Mehta plays with this concept throughout the film, like when the Gardener is wearing a Montreal Canadians toque and, of course, Stella's taste for Molson Canadian.
Stella is an aging servant that works as a cook for the Canadian Consulate, and is not exactly who she seems. At first glance she is an extremely devout Catholic woman, living a hermitic lifestyle, other than when she is cooking for her bosses. But in reality, she is a cunning and manipulative woman who is little other than a clever, conniving, hustler driven by a lustful desire for money. Her schemes range from petty theft, to organized crime, and end up culminating in the films unexpected conclusion.
Some stylistic elements of the film that reflect it's Diasporic nature include how Bollywood conventions are twisted in with what is mainly a Western style film- like when Tannu is rescued by the charming "stranger"- and how the Indian characters will go from speaking Hindi to English in the same conversation. Some other notable Diasporic aspects of the film include when Michael first teaches his cooking class and receives objections for having beef on the table (hindu's don't eat the sacred cow); how Michael is trying to become more Indian while all the Indians he meets are trying to be more Western; and how the Indian servants' interactions with Westerners seem to corrupt them. My absolute favourite part though, is when Stella is taking "orders" and the person on the phone asks for rice wine, to which she replies, "Ice wine, not rice wine you idiot. This is a Canadian shop, not Chinese".
"Cooking With Stella" is a brilliantly entertaining feature debut from Dilip Mehta. I am looking forward to see more from him. The story and humour keeps you hooked from the beginning and the twist at the end is clever (and even a bit heartwarming). Both McKellar and Biswas do an excellent job with their performances. This film is an excellent example of both Diaspora and Canadian Cinema, which like the blend of the film's multicultural elements, has itself become an amalgamation that has spawned a "new" form of culture- what one might call "Indo-Canadian", in this case. If you enjoy this film, be sure to check out the work of Deepa mehta and the other great Canadian filmmakers who make films through a Diasporic lens. You won't be disappointed!!! Canadian Cinema RULES!!! 8.5 out of 10