Estomago is a cautionary tale that serves up its morals with a twist and a knowing smile. When we first meet Raimundo Nonato (Joao Miguel), he is just off the bus at a big city terminal with nothing much more than the clothes on his back, a total innocent from the backwoods. He finds himself a job at a local diner and discovers that whatever he may lack in charm, looks or intellect, he certainly has a way with food. This talent leads him through a world where the sins of lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride flourish, and by which he is eventually swallowed up.
The film has a rather over-ambitious structure, cutting backwards and forwards between Nonato’s life in the city and his life in prison, the exact sequence of these two parts of his life left slightly in doubt until the middle of the film. This leads to some initial confusion, but director Marcos Jorge pulls it all together in the end, to amusing effect.
Nonato, as he leads his rake’s progress through the superficially very different hierarchies of the restaurant world and that of the regulated mayhem of a Brazilian prison, remains very much an innocent, almost to the very end. On his arrival in the big city, he finds a job with miserly diner owner Zulmiro, hooks up with the glutinous working-girl Ira, connects with the proud and lustful restaurant owner Giovanni, and at another time finds himself subjected to the whims of slothful prison bully Bujiu. He himself succumbs to jealousy and wrath, but ultimately finds his own somewhat twisted redemption — in his own mind at least.
Estomago deals mostly with character types, and in this respect harks back to an ancient tradition of morality plays. The cynical eye with which these types and the workings of the world are observed, however, is definitely modern. Nonato, like many innocents, is very literal in his perception of what he sees and hears, and the constant kitchen metaphor about the very best type of steak tasting like the rump of a callipygian woman leads to an act that takes Estomago right out of the world of a restaurant rom-com and into the world of Hannibal Lector. Although there are plenty of laughs in Estomago, there is a distinct shortage of beautiful people.
Estomago — A Gastronomic Story
DIRECTED BY: Marcos Jorge
STARRING: Joao Miguel (Nonato), Fabiula Nascimento (Iria), Babu Santana (Bujiu), Carlo Briani (Giovanni), Zeca Cenovicz (Zulmiro), Paulo Miklos (Etectera)
RUNNING TIME: 112 MINUTESPortuguese with Chinese subtitles
LANGUAGE: Portuguese with Chinese
TAIWAN RELEASE: TODAY
The acting is solid, with Miguel masterful in revealing the banality of evil and the fine line that separates evil from innocence. The supporting roles are more than adequate, and while none of the characters are particularly attractive, they manage to elicit some degree of sympathy as human beings caught up ineluctably in a fate not of their own making.
For a film that involves a brutal stabbing, cannibalism and the dispatch of one character through poison, Estomago manages to be extremely funny in an off-kilter sort of way and contains some entertaining reflections on the human relationship with food. Even after you fit all the parts of the story together, Jorge leaves you wondering exactly whether we should despise Nonato as a psychopath or cheer his success in a world that has stacked the odds against him.