Friday, June 26, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy (2019) - A Kino Lorber DVD Review

DIANA KENNEDY: NOTHING FANCY (2019) is an entertaining and informative documentary on the woman regarded by many as the world's foremost expert on Mexican cuisine. The film was released on DVD this week by Kino Lorber.

The British-born Kennedy, who is now 97, is an adventurous soul whose spontaneous trip to Haiti in the '50s led to meeting her husband, New York Times reporter Paul Kennedy. Before Paul's death in 1967 the couple lived in Mexico for a number of years, and Kennedy returned there after his passing.

Kennedy has spent well over half a century taking solo trips throughout Mexico, traveling by bus and car in search of recipes, visiting the homes of strangers to document the way they cook. She became not simply a cookbook writer but the historian of Mexican cooking, authoring seminal books such as THE CUISINES OF MEXICO and THE ART OF MEXICAN COOKING.

Kennedy has a feisty, edgy personality; she doesn't suffer fools gladly and is unconcerned with tact. Though she deeply loved the husband with whom she had too few years, she's otherwise lived a solo life and wanted it that way, with no interest in having a child and preferring to travel alone; she lives in an isolated, somewhat "off the grid" traditional home in Michoacan. That home is becoming the Diana Kennedy Center for the preservation of Mexican cuisines.

Kennedy's abrupt manner, including freely using curse words, initially took me aback, but as I watched the film it occurred to me that that same tough personality is what enabled her to be a lone woman (with a gun!) traveling the back roads of Mexico in search of recipes.

The more difficult aspects of her personality are balanced with the love and passion she feels for food and cooking -- I especially loved a scene showcasing her labor-intensive preparation of coffee -- and she has clearly made abiding friendships among the Mexican people, as well as earning the deep respect of her peers in the world of cooking.

In short, she's a dichotomy, a woman with a passion for food who lives a vigorous life at nearly a century old -- and who can turn on a dime and discuss the possibility of suicide if she can no longer live life on her terms.

DIANA KENNEDY: NOTHING FANCY is the first film for writer-director Elizabeth Carroll. Carroll described her experiences making the film in a recent interview; she pointed out that many of the families Kennedy learned from in the '50s and '60s are now gone, and only Kennedy is left to tell the story.

The documentary was filmed by Paul Mailman. It runs 75 minutes, which seemed just about right.

I've wanted to see this film since my friend Raquel reviewed it at last year's SXSW festival, and it did not disappoint. I think perhaps this weekend I'll spend some time with Kennedy's THE TORTILLA BOOK.

The DVD also includes the trailer and a trailer gallery for five additional documentaries available from Kino Lorber, some of which have review links below.

Previous reviews of documentaries released by Kino Lorber: OBIT: LIFE ON DEADLINE (2016), HAROLD AND LILLIAN: A HOLLYWOOD LOVE STORY (2015), DAWSON CITY: FROZEN TIME (2016), THE GODDESSES OF FOOD (2016), BOMBSHELL: THE HEDY LAMARR STORY (2017), CHEF FLYNN (2018), and LINDA RONDSTADT: THE SOUND OF MY VOICE (2019).

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this DVD.

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