The film finds its focus in the enigmatic Emma Recchi (Tilda Swinton), which is not her real name. She came from Russia, and married into the Recchi family, one with, as Sight and Sound said, "quite a bit of money to their name." This is apparent from the film's opening, which takes place during Grandpa Recchi's birthday. Nick Davis called the film similar to the work of Arnaud Desplechin ("A Christmas Tale") and that it is, referential even of that film. So many subplots abound at the start, from Edoardo (Flavio Parenti) who has brought home his lover Eva (the beautiful Diane Fleri), who is from a class level lower than that of the Recchis. Edoardo, as Sight and Sound noted, has somewhat "blemished the family name in his loss in a boat race." This stilts the evening (and also really sets off the film), as well as lesbian daughter and photographer Elisabetta (Alba Rohrwacher), who is somewhat disrespected by the grandfather, who is quick in showing his disappointment (you could call it a family trait). In this scene, as well, the old Recchi hands down the business to Edoardo (which, as my friend says, is not the best idea). We also are introduced to, as Sight and Sound said, the victor of that race, who is a chef ("A chef!" the family exclaims when Edoardo tells them who he lost to or maybe tied with ) and an excellent one at that.
As Nick's Flick Picks' Nick Davis, The New Yorker critic Anthony Lane, et al. noted, the film is very food-minded, and a lot of plot points hinge on various dishes. For example, Antonio the chef (Edoardo Gabbriellini) makes an extremely good eggplant dish for Edoardo, which convinces him to get Antonio's reluctant father into allowing Antonio to have a restaurant. Also, in a scene that Lane mentioned in his review, Swinton eats a prawn and falls deeply in love with Antonio as a result. The critical moment of the film, the moment before the film goes into a total downfall, is also culinary.
As Lane also mentioned, the film is about "repression." Emma has come from Russia and keeps her memories to herself (this backstory I wasn't all too fond of). Emma's relationship with Antonio also has quite a bit of fantasy involved, as the chef has a hard time turning back his desires. Lane commented that the film should have left the actual sexuality "offscreen", and although I don't entirely agree, it's a little overdone here. Emma's daughter Elisabetta discloses her sexual orientation only to her mother, as her conventional father would be in a fit of rage at it.
This is not nearly as personal a film as "A Christmas Tale," where you knew about everyone and quite well. Here, certain characters of the family are left mostly uncovered (although it's not a requirement to bring everyone into light). Swinton, as my friend said, is "good," and, as I think another friend said, very right for the part. I also liked Waris Ahluwalia in his bit part as a businessman in dealings with the Recchis. The film manages to be decent for a long while, but falls to pieces at the end, which also calls attention to fellow flaws. The ending needs to deliver here, and it really doesn't (making, as Nick Davis said, "the sum off"). To use the typical critical language in a "food film," the film has a good and impressive main course but slinks off into a dessert with low-grade ice cream at the ending (with a tart but useless chocolate center). C+