Food as a Barrier
By Sierra Smith
The 2010 film Letters to Juliet is interesting in how it relates to food in that it presents food as a barrier between a couple engaged to be married, rather than a point of connection. Throughout the film, the protagonist Sophie is distanced both emotionally and physically from her fiancé Victor because of his obsession with food and the impending opening of his Italian restaurant. The strain that food places on their relationship gives food a divisive quality in contrast to its usual ability to unite people together, going against the grain of how food is typically presented in film.
From the first interaction between Sophie and Victor in the film, the audience is informed of the obstacle of food in their relationship through a powerful visual image of spaghetti hanging between them (5 minutes). Sophie enters Victor’s restaurant to find him in the kitchen, testing spaghetti recipes and hanging the various strands around the kitchen to cool. As she tries to tell him about her day, he interrupts her, imploring her to taste the different pasta strands. The moment is a visual representation of Victor’s love for food and cooking overpowering his love for Sophie. The spaghetti is everywhere, physically obstructing the vision of the characters and the viewer, getting in the way between Sophie and Victor. The food visually surrounds them and acts like a curtain between them, dividing them.
This separation between them because of Victor’s passion for food continues on their honeymoon, a trip they take to Italy before their wedding so that they can focus on the grand opening of Victor’s restaurant after the wedding. While in Italy, the couple spend time touring vineyards and meeting Victor’s restaurant suppliers, rather than sight-seeing as Sophie would prefer to do. Victor insists the tours of vineyards are “romantic”—and while they would have been conventionally, the romance is drained when the visits are driven by work. The food separates the couple in distance when Victor becomes intent upon traveling to see a truffle. It’s at this moment that Sophie separates herself from him, returning to Verona to go sight-seeing while he travels in the opposite direction to see the truffle (10). This moment is pivotal as it sets the tone for the rest of their honeymoon and what will become Sophie’s journey—they are comfortable spending time apart on their honeymoon, and this separateness is instigated by food.
Their fate becomes ultimately sealed when Victor departs from Sophie to go to a wine auction, an event he downplays in its seriousness though it means they will be hours away from each other during their honeymoon. It is during Victor’s absence that Sophie enlists herself in helping Claire Smith find her love of fifty years ago, in the process finding her own true love in Claire’s grandson, Charlie. Whereas Sophie and Charlie have moments over the course of the film in which they bond over food, such as when they smear ice cream on each other’s faces, they are not consumed by food, which is the difference between their relationship and Sophie and Victor’s (55).
Food begins and ends Sophie and Victor’s relationship as we see them in the film. We first see Sophie and Victor together in his restaurant kitchen, and we last see them together in his kitchen, though Sophie’s story continues beyond this (1:27). Importantly, Victor starts and ends in the kitchen, indicating that he remains static as a character in his obsession with food, while Sophie evolves over the course of the film. She leaves the kitchen, signifying that she is not ruled by food, but Victor does not, and that is the difference between them.
Letters to Juliet. Directed by Gary Winick, Summit Entertainment, 2010.