The 60th BFI London Film Festival is upon us. Running from the 5th to the 16th of October, the London Film Festival will be welcoming international filmmakers and stars including Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Sigourney Weaver and Liam Neeson to celebrate the year in film at its headlined galas.
Here at Food and Drink Guides we love a good film, so we’ve decided to celebrate the BFI’s annual festival in our own little way. We’ve put together a list of some of the strangest food on film and some of the big screen’s most iconic foodie moments.
Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983)
Perhaps the most surreal of all the Monty Python films, The Meaning of Life marked the group’s return to their original sketch-style format after The Holy Grail and The Life of Brian, which each told individual stories and followed the same character. Upon its release in The Meaning of Life received a somewhat mixed reception, but still won the 1983 Grand Jury Prize at Cannes Film Festival. The film, like most of the Pythons’ work, is now widely recognised as surrealist jewel in the crown of British comedy, but one of the most famous scenes is rather hard to stomach and not for the squeamish among us.
In this scene Terry Jones plays Mr Creosote, a morbidly obese and rather grotesque character, who begins by asking the maître d’ (John Cleese) for a bucket, which he fails to hit with his first bout of projectile vomit. Needless to say, the tone is securely set from this point onwards. Mr Creosote orders everything from the menu and consumes every last bit while vomiting a fair amount in between. Finally, the calm and collected maître d’ persuades him to sample a single ’waffeur-thin mint’. Upon eating this last morsel Mr Creosote explodes, leaving the restaurant covered in the contents of his stomach in a shocking and, frankly, disgusting climax.
Hauntingly dystopian, Brazil is a sci-fi noir directed by Terry Gilliam (the only American member of Monty Python) that centres on Sam Lowry (played by Jonathan Pryce), an office clerk’s experience of a consumer-driven totalitarian state. The film was originally unsuccessful upon its release in North America, but had a warmer reception in Europe. It has since gone on to achieve cult classic status.
Although it draws inspiration from George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Brazil has a really uniquely futuristic feel due to Gilliam’s signature brand of surreal imagery and his imaginative concepts. In general, the themes in Brazil are quite dark, yet in seeking to satirise ‘largely dysfunctional industrial world that had been driving Gilliam crazy all his life’, the film has a fantastic sense of humour. One particularly amusing and surreal scene takes place in a restaurant, where the food is ordered by selecting a number from the menu. The maître d’ recommends the number one and number two respectively, but Sam orders a steak and causes the maître d’ visible irritation in his disregard for the rules. ‘You have to say the number’, he eventually snaps.
When the first of the food arrives, an extravagant cloche reveals the number eight – braised veal in a wine sauce. But the plate merely holds three sickly green blobs and a photograph of the aforementioned dish – the only indicator that this meal is at all edible.
Another cult favourite, Chan-wook Park’s Oldboy is dark, gripping and ultimately quite disturbing. This layered revenge thriller is violent in an unsettlingly realistic way, which makes the intricately woven plot all the more mysterious and surprising. It has been highly acclaimed by critics and praised by Quentin Tarantino, whose films share themes with Oldboy and have some stylistic similarities.
Even amongst the other bizarre films in this list, Oldboy takes shock tactics to a new level. In a particularly unsavoury scene, the protagonist Dae-su Oh (played by Min-sik Choi) eats a live octopus raw and it’s every bit as gross as it sounds. Oldboy was remade by Spike Lee in 2013, ten years after it was first released, but his version of the film skipped this scene entirely. I’d like to say that no octopuses were harmed in the making of the scene, but the footage below says otherwise.
Press play to see a rather apologetic Min-sik Choi struggle to keep his cool during filming.
Mood Indigo (2013)
Directed by Michel Gondry, French film Mood Indigo or L’Écume des jours is adapted from Boris Vian’s 1947 novel Froth on the Daydream. Set to a soundtrack of Duke Ellington tunes (and named after one), the film centres around inventive and wealthy Colin (Romain Duris), who pours all his resources into collecting Jean Sol-Patre (a spoonerism of Jean-Paul Satre, the name of a famous existentialist philosopher.) His life changes when he falls madly in love with Audrey Tautou’s free-spirited character Chloe (named after another Duke Ellington Song).
The whimsical nature of the film is accentuated by the focus on food and the many animated sequences in which it comes to life and dances around the plate. The stop motion animation has a charm reminiscent of Henry Sellick’s James and the Giant Peach.
High Rise (2015)
Based on the book by J.G. Ballard, High-Rise is an absurdist dystopian thriller directed by Ben Wheatley (A Field in England, Sightseers, Kill List) which has garnered many nods ¬–mostly in approval – from film critics and enthusiasts. Without any intention to spoil the film for anyone who hasn’t seen it, there are a few notable moments in this film that truly summarise its surreal nature. In certain scenes the physiologist Robert Laing, played by Tom Hiddleston, truly embraces life in the brutalist high-rise building and starts to make some rather poor choices – particularly when it comes to food. In one such scene, Laing demonstrates that his priorities have become rather skewed. While others loot a supermarket for a dwindling supply of food, Laing aggressively fights a man for a tin of paint. But the most bizarre food-related choice of all is summed up in Ballard’s original prose:
‘As he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr. Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building.’
You can watch High-Rise and many more critically-acclaimed films by subscribing to BFI Player, which currently offers a free 30-day trial.