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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 31, 2003

'Food' serves up rich interaction

By Kevin Thomas
Los Angeles Times

 •  'Food of Love'

Not rated; complex adult situations, sexual themes but discreet presentation; some language

112 minutes

With "Food of Love," renowned Catalan writer-director Ventura Pons makes an impressive English-language debut in adapting novelist David Leavitt's "The Page Turner" to the screen.

This subtle, sophisticated drama unfolds with a classic pebble-tossed-in-the-still-pond effect: It opens like a well-shaped vignette of first love only to broaden its scope to consider the intricate workings of human destiny, illuminated by multifaceted portrayals from its accomplished cast and set against the vibrant backgrounds of Barcelona and Manhattan.

It's a story Henry James might have told, had he dared, and it proceeds from a much-cherished James theme: the fate of innocents abroad. In this case they are a mother and son, Pamela Porterfield (Juliet Stevenson) and 18-year-old Paul (Kevin Bishop). An aspiring concert pianist, Paul was thrilled to be selected as page turner for his hero and role model, the world-famous Richard Kennington (Paul Rhys), when Kennington performed in San Francisco, Paul's hometown.

Some months later, Paul and Richard cross paths in Barcelona, where the pianist has just given a concert and intends to take a week off before returning home to Manhattan. Pamela has gone ahead with what had been intended as a family vacation, even though her marriage has unexpectedly broken up. High-strung and possessive, she begins to relax and regain her equilibrium with the advent of Richard, who takes mother and son to dinner every evening and encourages her shopping excursions and self-pampering. Meanwhile, Paul and Richard end up in Richard's hotel suite, in each other's arms.

Richard has accomplished the seduction of the virginal but willing Paul with considerate expertise — and no false promises. Paul is a well-mannered and intelligent boy-next-door type. Approaching 40, Richard is not conventionally handsome but attractive, especially in his lack of pretense and his considerable polish. When Richard realizes he is responding to Paul's love, he retreats but assures him that they will be able to see each other once Paul commences his studies at Juilliard.

What might well have been extended into the entire film, however, proves but a succinct prologue. Looming are Paul's discovery of what it takes to pursue an artistic career, of more romance and ultimately of mother and son, who hold surprises for each other and themselves.

Allan Corduner's Mansourian, Kennington's powerful agent and longtime lover, is a worldly older man who has no scruples about protecting his own interests. If Mansourian is ultimately the liar in this tale, Geraldine

McEwan's Novotna, Paul's piano teacher, is its admirably unsparing and blunt truth-teller. An elegant work, "Food of Love" is as consistently engaging as it is revealing.