A Taste of Switzerland, Romance & Life Lessons: Reviewing Bon Appétit from 2012 Victoria Film Festival

Bon Appetit Poster

Walking into Bon Appétit on Saturday night, all I knew about the movie was that it was set in a restaurant and it was a romantic comedy of sorts. Though I normally abhor romantic comedies of any sort, I thought that seeing a romantic comedy in another language would be different and less cliché than in English. I believe that movies in other languages, whether they are romances or not, have this ability (in my mind) to make emotions and situations seem more raw and realistic than in most English films (though there are exceptions to that rule). As I saw the trailer for the movie in German and a synopsis that I’d read seem to claim that the movie would be in Dutch, I fully expected the movie to be a foreign language of some sort with subtitles.

I was surprised to discover when the movie started, that only a few conversations here and there were in Spanish and German, the rest of the dialogue was in English. Given the movie was set in Switzerland it wasn’t a leap to expect that many people, especially the main characters who worked at a prestigious restaurant in the heart of Zurich would be fluent in English.

I was hooked into the story from the beginning. A young ambitious Spanish chef named Daniel leaves Spain for the opportunity to work for the prestigious Thomas Wackerle in his famous restaurant in Zurich and he looks at this opportunity as his ticket to make something of himself in the restaurant industry and make a name for himself. In the beginning of the film, Daniel comes across as someone who has made career ambition his single priority in life. He puts off responding to his girlfriend back home and puts the brakes on her idea to move with him to Zurich. To Daniel, coming to Zurich clearly means no distractions for his career.

Due to his talent, Daniel quickly rises in the ranks at Thomas Wackerle’s restaurant and works alongside Thomas’s right hand man, Hugo and sommelier Hanna. Daniel is instantly attracted to Hanna and discovers, while on a walk home, that they share common ground. After expressing his belief that life isn’t like romance films, Hanna kisses Daniel; which proves to be a turning point, not only in his relationship with her; but in his focus.

Despite learning from Hugo that Hanna is in love with Thomas and has been in an affair with him for a year, Daniel continues to bond with Hanna. One of my favorite scenes happens in the first half of the movie when Daniel visits Hanna at her apartment and she challenges him to cook dinner for them using only two eggs, some pasta, an orange and some mint candies. The end result is nothing short of amazing and it honestly made me wish that I was as talented and creative with food. What was more significant in that sequence, I thought was the fact that Daniel and Hanna talk on the phone the entire night as Daniel walked home. And at the end of that sequence, at 5 in the morning with the sun rising, Daniel stands and describes the mood of the city with Hanna listening intently. To me, it was one of the defining moments that illustrated how strong their bond with each other really was.

The situation comes to a head as Daniel, Hanna and Hugo go a road trip that eventually sees them end up in Daniel’s hometown in Spain, where he is finally (and literally) forced to confront the loose ends of his past in the form of his ex-girlfriend. It is then that we as an audience start to see Daniel grow up and take responsibility for his actions and even start to grow into his own.

However, the situation after the road trip quickly deteriorates and culminates in Hanna returning home to Munich and Hugo verbally berates Daniel on the street outside the restaurant for still being afraid to take a leap of faith and do what he really wants with his life.

After some soul searching, Daniel patches things up with Hugo who once again encourages him to take a leap of faith; which leads to Daniel going to Munich to visit Hanna. It is there that we finally see Daniel grow into a mature, selfless person capable and willing to go after what he wants and also willing to let go of his single-minded career ambition. In the end, Daniel finally realizes that to grow in life is to take risks and make changes.

I won’t spoil the ending, all I will say is that it isn’t a happy ending in the traditional Hollywood sense. All three of the main characters who met and experienced growing pains together at Thomas Wackerle’s restaurant found their own paths in life and yet, they were still connected to one another.

One of the biggest reasons why this film speaks to me in a way that no other so-called romantic movie ever has is that it is realistic. Just because you feel a certain way about someone doesn’t mean that your place is with them or that your own dreams are any less important. There are times that it is much more important to let go and be willing to explore, find out who you are, what you want and where your place is in the world. And that, to me, is real life. Even more importantly, the movie sends the message that although we all have our own paths, the bonds we forge and the connections we share are just as vital and as strong as they ever have been; and physical distance can’t change that.

Overall, I think director David Pinillos did an excellent job in painting a portrait of what is essentially, real life. The restaurant itself becomes an afterthought and I feel that the life lessons could have been taught in any other setting. However, it was still great to see Switzerland and the beautiful scenery in Spain. It was a great movie and I definitely would encourage you to put it on your rental list or look for it on Netflix 🙂



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Selling Health: Advertising Drugs as the Solution

Within the last ten to twelve years, I’ve noticed an influx of commercials advertising different drugs, everything from erectile dysfunction to depression. Recently, I discovered that this practice is illegal in Canada, and yet we’re able to see such commercials because we have many American channels on satellite or digital cable. At first I found these commercials to be humorous but also pointless as the laundry list of side effects would be enough to convince me not to take the drug. However, recently I’ve also come to understand how marketing comes into play with such medication, because the underlying perception in our society is still that prescription drugs are somehow are effective than those we can simply purchase on our own in the drugstore.

With that being said, there are also other techniques used by such companies that convince people to talk to their doctors about medication such as Celebrex or Viagra. They use images of healthy, happy people who have become that way because the drugs have cured their depression or their allergies. Every day conditions such as allergies and the common cold have been re-branded into being sold as diseases and as such the underlying message is that medication must be purchased in order to heal people from such afflictions.

Moreover, I personally admit that companies such as Pfizer have ingenious marketing departments. Pfizer’s recent campaign featuring the ‘What Can We Do’ and “Graffiti’ commercials focuses on the human element to better health, becoming more brave, loving your families and enjoying the little things in life. Pfizer is bold enough to proclaim that sometimes ‘it takes more than medication’ in an attempt to market themselves as believing in alternative ways to better health, in spite being one of the two largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. Keep in mind, however, alternative in this sense does not mean alternative medicine. Although society is increasingly accepting of methods such as herbal medicine, acupuncture and naturopathy, these methods are in direct competition with pharmaceutical companies and in traditional mediums, such as television; pharmaceutical companies rule. Western medicine is still trying to convince its audience that the answers to their problems are found at the bottom of a pill bottle.

As I mentioned previously, the companies often do not create new medication for new diseases, rather they re-brand old diseases with new names and everyday conditions into diseases that previously thought of as being normal, such as acid reflux, which is now called gastro-esophageal reflux disease, which sounds much more serious and in much more need of medication to deal with it. I’ve recently learned that this is called the commodification of health and the medicalization of the human experience.

With this so called new influx of drugs and diseases, so brings in more fear in society about our health. The relationship with our doctors simply becomes a delivery system for these drugs, which doctors are pressured into pushing because of free incentives they receive from pharmaceutical companies. It is a world where increasingly, we cannot trust the information internet websites on the most effective medication, nor what we hear on the news.

In essence, all we are able to do as patients and consumers is tread carefully into the world of medication and learn as much as we can from patient advocacy groups and literature written by proven medical scientists and professionals. Without this knowledge, we are doing nothing but walking into a field of land mines.

Marketing Disillusions: The Purpose of a Higher Education

As I approach the end of my post secondary career, at least for all intents and purpose thus far; I find myself increasing disillusioned with the purpose of my degree.

Many people I have spoken to have said that the light is at the end of the tunnel and that for better or for worse, I will have completed my higher education with more knowledge than I entered in with. But for what purpose? Increasingly, I have found myself thinking that the purpose of a degree is to convince potential employers (and clients, in my case) that I have the qualifications to successfully compete for and do the job that I set out to do. However, is experience not just as vital if not more so than qualifications?

I suppose the question is how one defines the term ‘qualifications’. In my all-too-brief stints in the working world, which increasingly informs my experience in marketing and advertising, I believe that it is the tasks I complete that give me the qualifications; not my education. Why do I say this, you may ask? As I attend a traditional university, much if not all of what we are taught is theoretical. We are not given opportunities to apply such so-called knowledge outside of the confines of projects contained within the lecture hall. This is an enormous difference from that of more applied post secondary institutions, of which the one I worked at the latter half of last year fits into.

In my institution, nearly any and all applied experience we must go out and seek ourselves, much of it through our co-operative education program, of which I am a huge supporter of and participant in myself. In the applied institutions, however, your practical experience is integrated into the very fabric of your education.

For example, at the institution where I was a staff member for all too brief of a time, their MBA students were given projects, not from the professor or instructor, but from actual businesses looking for help at no cost. This help is in the form of business or marketing plans as well as other projects. These students also have the option of creating their own plans for their own start-up businesses. Throughout the process, the students’ plans are judged by three different independent panels of potential investors; therefore giving them the opportunity to see whether or not their businesses will succeed. This is an element that I find myself wishing frequently was available in more traditional educational institutions. As one struggling with a part-time freelance writing business in the marketing and advertising field myself, I believe there would have been many pointers and opportunities for advice that I could have received.

It is not as though I rely strictly on school to assist me with my business or searches for work experience however. I have attended networking events and have a student membership in the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) in an attempt to grow my network, obtain advice and gain work. But, it would have assisted me greatly had I had such applied opportunities integrated into my degree.

There are those who will disagree with me on the purpose of a degree. But the fact remains that my education will not teach me how to craft a brochure for a graphic designer, or a website for a photographer. Each client’s needs are distinct and separate from another, as are their target audiences. These are skills learned through trial and error, to which I have no teacher other than my own two hands and communication with my client. In my institution, my writing abilities extend strictly to academic forms of writing, which assist me little in my business or work experience as I do not intend to move to higher forms of post secondary education.

There is a debate then, between the importance of theoretical and practical knowledge. As I have said before, I find myself increasingly disillusioned as much of the courses I am forced to endure to complete my degree have little or nothing to do with my career path. Those that I do take an interest in, I somehow think that the option is still available to me to obtain books, articles and alike on such subject matter without having to pay tuition in order to gain such knowledge. The argument of course, can be made that the chances of my being willing to go out and search for such material is slim to none; nevertheless the opportunity is available to me.

I suppose the second debate would be on the definition of qualifications. All the jobs in my field, communications, that I have discovered, all explicitly state experience as their first preference, with the degree as a secondary point.  One could then venture a guess that experience is the most important qualification when seeking employment. The degree then, is simply there to convince the individuals/company that you are marketing your skills to, that you have the training to excel at the position in question. Again, as I have said before, however, my theoretical knowledge obtained in completing my degree has done little or nothing to assist me in creating a solid, attractive and creative advertising piece for a client.

So is there anything that remains to be done in this circumstance? The fact of the matter remains that I will not get farther in my career path without my degree, whatever the true reasons for having one. And thus, with a year and half to go, I suppose my only recourse is to continually seek employment and freelance opportunities and to bite the bullet and complete the last of my academic experience.

How to Touch the Soul: TV’s Portrayal of Human Emotion

In recent years, I’ve noticed an influx of police procedural dramas hitting the airwaves of American and by proxy, Canadian television.

Many of these shows such as Law & Order and CSI as well as their respective spinoffs might embellish on the forensic procedures used and how every person in the department seems to be responsible for everything, but I find them to be incredibly accurate in terms of the cases and the people involved.

The cases are accurate because they are things that happen all over the world, every day. People are murdered, in an insurmountable number of different ways, robbed, assaulted, betrayed and framed for crimes they didn’t commit. They are probable and yet impossible at the same time.

However, where these shows hit me the most is how they portray emotions, both of the victims’ families and of the detectives and investigators.

One of my all-time favorites, Third Watch, was a master at doing this. In one episode in the first season, a three year boy was killed in a gang shooting, shot by a ten year old trying to prove himself on the street.  Partners on the squad 55-David, Officers Faith Yokas and Maurice Boscorelli (Molly Price and Jason Wiles, respectively) answered the call.

Faith’s anger and pain at seeing kids shooting kids and the disgust she felt both at the ten year old boy’s mother and Caesar, the gang leader who simultaneously started an affair with the boy’s mother and nearly killed the boy; was both heart-rending and real.

Any cop or detective who is a parent as Faith’s character would express passionate anger and disgust over the city and the society in general that we live in, where kids shoot each other just to prove something, because they have nowhere else to turn.

What all these shows, Third Watch in particular, have become are primetime experts in portraying the emotions that cops, doctors, paramedics and investigators go through on the job. We as a society depend on law enforcement to save us, solve our problems and protect us from ourselves and each other so much that we often forget that they are people: sons, daughters, siblings, parents; just the same as the rest of us and all they can do is do their jobs to the best of their abilities.

Take Bosco’s panic attacks after September 11th, due to the fact that he froze when he saw the World Trade Centre towers fall. He blamed himself for not doing his job, when in reality, being faced with such tragedy makes us human first and defines us by our jobs second.

Or Monte ‘Doc’ Parker’s (Michael Beach) breakdown that ended with him being sent to Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital after creating a hostage situation at his old firehouse on King and Arthur, due to his inability to deal with the sudden death of a valued friend, his father’s suicide and Sept. 11th.

And one of my personal favorites, Mac Taylor (Gary Sinise) on CSI NY dealing with his wife Claire’s death and then finding out that she had a son she gave up for adoption, Reese, who Mac bonds with. Even outside of the job, it’s shows like this that provide a glimpse into the personal lives of these characters and shows how it affects their jobs every day.

Although these shows embellish certain facts and duties as a part of entertainment, most notably in this fact: that in reality, most cases are never solved; they still remind us that health care workers and law enforcement officials are still human.

In spite of the influx of controversial and often low quality reality shows, there are still shows

Slapping Society in the Face: Why We’re Fascinated with the Dark Side

“There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction. But there is no real me, only an entity, something illusory. And though I can hide my cold gaze, and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours; and maybe you can even sense that our lifestyles are probably comparable, I simply am not there.”  The above quotation, spoken by the infamous Patrick Bateman, chillingly portrayed by the incomparable Christian Bale in the 2000 film of the same name as the novel written by Bret Easton Ellis; sent chills down my spine the first time it crossed my hearing.

What is it about those who are rebels to the societal norm that attracts our attention? Make no mistake about whom I’m referring to, I don’t talk about the people who spray graffiti on walls, or who choose to wear bright orange clothing with pink hair. No, the people I refer to have a much darker way of turning their backs on society. Why is popular culture seemingly obsessed with films, literature, music and even news about men and women who snap and make it the mission of their lives to commit murder and torture?

Though popular culture of the new millennium embraces it, it is not a subject that has just started receiving attention in the last twenty years. The prolific horror and crime fiction writer Edgar Allan Poe displayed a fascination with the psychology of people who commit murder, calling the reasoning behind their atrocities, perversity. In two of his short stories, The Imp of the Perverse, and The Black Cat, both narrators commit murder, and claim that there was something inside them that compelled them to do so. The murderer in the Imp of the Perverse claimed that his confession was driven by an incredible compulsion inside of him that he couldn’t control. This compulsion, the narrator claimed, was perversity. The argument that Poe makes within these two texts is that there is something perverse that exists in all of mankind; it causes us to do actions or create situations due to the fact that we cannot control them. We all have darkness within us, and there will be a time where it will be unleashed and control us all.

Could the same argument then be made for a serial killer such as Patrick Bateman? Is it the perversity inside him that drives him, or some innate evil that he was born with, that he alone controlled when to unleash it? Or was it the incredible shallowness and self absorption of those in his social class that motivated him to make the first kill? I believe that it was the emptiness of his life, the emptiness of people around him, and the fact that although Bateman wished to fit in, he simultaneously wanted to be recognized. He killed indiscriminately those who he believed didn’t deserve life, from the men he worked with, whose lives were hollow, shallow shells, to those he thought lacked the will to do anything with their lives, such as bums on the street. He killed in order to fill the hollow emptiness within himself, and in his desperate confession was still amazed to find that no one knew him. No matter what he chose to do, in his world, he, Patrick Bateman was invisible to those around him. Could his reasons for killing still be attributed to Poe’s argument and belief in perversity?

And what about the famed Dr. Hannibal Lecter? What could a psychiatrist want with murder? Is it the knowledge and the power to lord over his patients and his would be captors? Is the ability to manipulate thoughts and feelings until they cause their own deaths what Lecter craves for? I believe that Lecter craves the power, he craves the psychological puzzles that cause his would be captors and his victims to run in circles towards insanity. He is the perpetrator and the creator and the one who forces answers to surface that were previously dead and buried not too long ago. It is not perversity in his case; it is the innate pleasure derived from manipulation, from control, a game that Lecter believes must be played in the game of life.

Why then, do we as the public and consumers of popular culture continually immerse ourselves in such darkness? Fascination is simultaneous with fear; we are consistently fascinated by what it is that we do not understand, yet at the same time fearful of it; for no reason other than we fear to see it within ourselves. Poe certainly makes the argument that that darkness exists within all of us, and it will be unleashed because we do not want it to be. We fear becoming depraved, evil, heartless, and most often, we fear being ostracized for atrocities against our fellow man. And yet, same as individuals such as Bateman and Lecter, we crave notoriety, recognition, and to some extent, fame. Our curiosity betrays us in an elaborate maze, searching for the answers and the justification behind the minds of such brutal killers, if not for self-preservation, then for the seeming façade of science. The riddles of human mind enslaves society as a captive audience, compelling us to discover, to understand, the meaning behind madness; because fear brings an excitement, an adrenaline unsurpassed by anything else.

The actions of such fictionalized serial killers as Bateman and Lecter attract us, because they do not care about the bounds of society. Laws are there for them to rip apart, to bend as they wish in order to serve their purposes. There is a part of all of us that wishes to rebel, to cast off the restraints and boundaries in society and live our lives the way we wish, and the extreme in which these killers destroy the law in murdering their victims excite the rebels in us who wish for a taste of that rebellion; even if it is through the pages of a novel, or the silver screen of a film. The dark side of humanity does not only extend into literature and film, but also into music and world of graphic novels.

Individuals and bands such as Marilyn Manson and Evanescence pen songs dealing with blood, death, pain, and suicide, invoking the dark side of pain. Marilyn Manson’s own stage name was combined to illustrate the duplicity not only of Hollywood, but of society. The Joker of the Batman comic universe deals his cards of murder and mayhem concurrently with laughter. Indeed, his victims die of laughter. We celebrate the glitz and glamour of those who are beautiful, talented and famous, while also training the relentless spotlight on those who we consider evil, the fictionalized murderers, and their real-life counterparts.

How many publications, both for research and pure interest purposes have been written on the lives, crimes, and motivations of serial killers? How many hours of news coverage, interviews, and breaking investigations, such as those on Dateline or 48 Hours Mystery; have been devoted to killers such as David Berkowitz, or Aileen Wuornos? What about the names that still brings chills to those of us who remember, in Ted Bundy or Ed Gein? Indeed films have been made to glamorize the actions of such depraved, disturbed, and cold individuals, Monster, and Summer of Sam, to name a few.  As our fascination extends beyond the realm of fiction and into reality, the question must be asked: where do we draw the line?

The answer is not a simple one, and as such cannot be summarized in neat one or two sentences. However, it is certain that so long as there is fame, and there exists the continuing supply of such blood, torture, murder and brutality against our fellow man, both in fantasy and reality; human nature will continue to be curious about it. It is a belief that should we succeed in understanding these individuals, we will succeed in understanding ourselves. And, then, perhaps, there will be no need for fear.