Nothing Fancy: Diana Kennedy

 

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Elizabeth Carroll's debut feature is centred on an inspiring nonagenarian you won't forget.

 
Nothing Fancy

 

This film is an absolute winner but not quite what you might expect. Diana Kennedy although British is an expert - arguably the expert - on the subject of Mexican cuisine. In the circumstances it would be reasonable to assume that for once we have here a documentary which will appeal first and foremost to foodies. That would be somewhat unusual in itself since movies fondly remembered on account of the food featured in them tend not to be documentaries - titles that stand out include Babette's Feast (1987), Tampopo (1985) and the Meryl Streep/Amy Adams hit Julie & Julia (2009). While television readily embraces programmes about cooking, documentary films linked to the subject are comparatively rare - the one that springs to mind is the splendidly individual Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011) about a family restaurant that is the smallest in Tokyo. But, while those drawn to Nothing Fancy: Diana Kennedy due to an interest in traditional Mexican food will in no way be disappointed by it, that element is not what counts most.

 

To put it simply the essential appeal of Nothing Fancy: Diana Kennedy lies in Diana Kennedy herself. Long resident in Mexico and now 97 years old she must be one of the liveliest, most engaging and inspiring nonagenarians ever caught on camera. Treated as an adoptive daughter by the Mexicans, she has long been greatly loved because through her series of cookbooks and through her appearances on television she has over the years done more than anyone to preserve and cherish so many regional recipes native to Mexico. This has involved her in numerous journeys around the country carrying out research in depth and she is all the more admired because her quest has always been centred not on producing some personal variation on these foods but on following in detail the methods of preparation handed down from generation to generation.  It is in character too that she is an ardent conservationist concerned about the environment and living with an appreciative eye for trees and nature's landscape generally. It is part of the pleasure here that the film is vividly photographed, its images of Mexican life adding to its impact.

 

But towering above all this is the formidable, splendid individualist who is Diana Kennedy. The film's first half incorporates biographical details in chronological order and reveals Paul Kennedy, a reporter for The New York Times whom she married, as being the love of her life.  But he died a little less than a decade later in 1967 and, having never wanted children, she refused to remarry although she hints at other men in her life. Nevertheless, she has focussed on an independent existence and on being utterly her own woman. The only weakness in the film - and it is a minor one - lies in the fact that the second half is a more arbitrary assembly of bits and pieces, but one never ceases to relish the company of this remarkable woman who loves people as much as she loves food yet is delightfully outspoken, opinionated and herself. Don't miss this chance to spend time with her.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Diana Kennedy, José Andrés, Gabriela Cámara, Alice Waters, Nick Zukin, Rick Bayless, Pati Jinich, Frances McCullough, Abigail Mendoza, Clayton Kirking.

 

Dir Elizabeth Carroll, Pro Gina Abatemarco, Dan Braun, Eizabeth Carroll and David Koh, Ph Paul Mailman, Andrei Zakow and others, Ed Paul Lovelace, Jordan Schulkin and others, Music Dan Teicher and Graham Reynolds.

 

Submarine Deluxe/Honeywater Films/TDog/Dogwoof-Dogwoof.
73 mins. USA/Mexico. 2019. Rel: 1 May 2020. No Cert.