food in the arts



Ferzan Ozpetek/ Italy & Turkey/ 1997/ 94mins

Exquisitely constructed with sensual imagery, mouth-watering meals and tantalizing rhythms, Hamam (Steam) proffers a view into the ethereal Mecca that is Istanbul, interweaving the stories of two people who found it necessary to escape and re-invent their lives.

If postmodern marriage is between equals, Francesco (Alessandro Gassman) and Marta (Francesca d'Aloja) have been computer selected. He is slim, tall, charmless, cold. She is slim, tall, charmless, cold. He is irritable and insensitive to other people's feelings. She is angry and sensitive to her own feelings. They bicker and fight and work for a design company (their own) in Rome. They fit neatly into the high-stress, workaholic, image-conscious lifestyle, in which eating and talking and loving is snatched between phone calls and client consultations.

His aunt dies in Istanbul, leaving him a substantial property. He goes over to arrange the sale, staying with the family who have always looked after the old lady. Despite inevitable frustrations, he begins to relax and allow the character of the city to work its magic. Against the advice of a sleazy lawyer, he decides to stay and do up the Turkish bath in the basement, thwarting the ambitions of a powerful developer.

Ferzan Ozpetek could be accused of working for the tourist board. Of course, he doesn't, but his film is a redemption story - uptight Italian yuppie meets warm, generous, affectionate Turkish people and discovers... himself? The girls love him, and some of the boys. When Marta comes to visit, she finds a different husband. Trouble is, she hasn't changed.

Ozpetek is a sensitive director. He takes his time. He doesn't rush. He allows the natural rhythms to settle and pays particular attention to food. He is soft and sensual with his camera. And slow. For all its qualities in the acting and with the photography, the pace of the film requires a degree of commitment that may put too great a strain on patience.. 

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