Elizabeth Carroll (director)
28 September 2019 (released)
28 September 2019
There is much to savour about Elizabeth Carroll’s feature documentary about Diana Kennedy, a British woman who became a celebrated cook of Mexican cuisine in the 1970s. Much like her recipes, this film is stuffed with colour and spice, the latter being served-up mostly by the feisty ninety-five-year old herself.
Nothing Fancy: Diana Kennedy, is a celebration of a pioneering woman told in her own words and intercut with archive and clips from friends and admiring industry insiders. The filmmakers romp through Diana’s early life and her introduction to Mexican food. However, it wasn’t until after the death of her husband in 1967, that she began to carve out a career for herself as a cook and food writer. One contributor describes her as the Indiana Jones of food, reflecting her well-documented reputation for travelling around Mexico to discover new dishes - a food-adventurer.
The cinematography at times is mesmeric with wistful close-ups of Diana in her kitchen preparing dishes or when she takes the film unit on a tour of her ecological house in Mexico. Director of photography, Paul Mailman, has skilfully created a mood of intimacy and of privileged access into another person’s life.
Away from the glitz of TV appearances, awards and best-selling books, it is her connection to the land and its people which marks her out as a person of interest. She remains an ardent environmentalist and she still walks the walk when it comes to recycling and conservation on her ranch.
When the film starts to feel a little too smitten with its own subject matter, the director manages to pull back. A brusque aside or self-deprecating comment from Kennedy or a reflective moment, such as when she contemplates widowhood, dials down the fandom.
Kennedy’s personality is stamped throughout this documentary and it is great fun to join her for the ride. She is blunt and provocative and non-conformist – and this is why the camera loves to be around her. It is clear from the commentary that she has courted controversy during her lifetime much of it by being intensely critical of modern approaches to cooking.
Yet, now as a nonagenarian, and despite having put a few gastronomic noses out of joint, she has reached rock star status. Everyone she meets on the food-scene seems to be a super-fan. Of course, these are pleasurable moments on screen, seeing Diana bask in her well-earned glory and they finely illustrate her status in the industry. However, less could have been more here. She is such an intriguing character it would have been interesting to hear more about her solo treks around her adoptive country, foraging for authentic recipes and new culinary experiences.
Carroll has directed a vivid portrait of a determined and curious woman. The fact that Kennedy is a middle-class woman from England who found fame cooking traditional Mexican food and chose to live sustainably, long before such an idea became mainstream – makes it all the more delicious.
Raindance Film Festival, Vue Cinema Piccadilly, London on Saturday 28 September 6:15pm and Sunday 29 September 12:30pm