This film review is brought to you in partnership with our friends at Breaking Glass Pictures
Fresh from the 2019 TIFF and Sundance film festival, filmmaker Fernando Grostein Andrade brings us a sweet exploration of cultural and gastronomic fusion. In a film that follows a simple yet nuanced narrative, encompassing themes of both individual and social identity. As we follow Abe (Noah Schnapp), an introverted yet confident twelve year old boy from Brooklyn who aspires to be a chef. His cultural/social and religious identity straddling both Judaism and Islam. As his Jewish mother (Dagmara Dominczyk) and Muslim Palestinian father (Arian Moayed) find themselves embroiled in family division on Abe’s future religious path. His mother and her extended family keen to help Abe explore his Jewish heritage. While his father tries to avoid any religious pressure. His own extended family keen on Abe exploring his Muslim ancestry.
For Abe this creates a highly confusing social and cultural dilemma. His growing independence and upcoming thirteen birthday wrapped in the need to please both sides of his family. As he internally debates whether to go ahead with a Bar Mitzvah. Or embrace his Muslim heritage, in a birthday year that reflects the transition to adulthood in both Islam and Judaism. His internal battle to please everyone made all the more difficult by constant family arguments.
Abe escapes the pressures of family life with food, his cooking blog acting as online security blanket. His dreams of becoming a professional chef wrapped in flavours and recipes that cross both Jewish and Muslim traditions. However, despite his passion for food, Abe lacks a mentor who can help grow his skills. A need that ultimately leads him to the discovery of a pop up fusion kitchen in Brooklyn. Where Brazilian chef Chico (Seu Jorge) creates amazing street food by harnessing the flavours of world cuisine.
But as Abe secretly skips his summer school to visit Chico’s kitchen, while his parents continue to debate his religious future. Both parties remain unaware of each other, his parents oblivious to Abe’s days spent in the colourful co-op kitchen of Chico. While Chico remains oblivious to Abe’s plan to bring his family together through fusion food. However, as things become more heated at home, and Abe’s secret visits to Chico’s kitchen are revealed. Abe’s plans seem all but lost in a haze of family turmoil.
As a family movie, Abe bravely takes on themes that are often held at arms length within the children’s film genre. From Israeli and Palestinian politics and conflict, to social isolation and family breakdown. However, its ability to wrap these topics in a rich, warm and relatable family drama is deserving of critical praise. It is therefore a pity that these very themes also suffer from an over simplistic ending.
But despite this flaw, Abe is a confident and often beautiful film, surrounded by a relaxed, naturalistic filming style. The cinematography of Blasco Giurato (Cinema Paradiso) wrapping the viewer in vibrant colour. While Fernando Grostein Andrade’s background in documentary filmmaking shines through. Ultimately providing us with a fly on the wall journey into Abe’s life, that also acts as important springboard in both discussion and debate with kids. As it allows younger audiences to reflect on diversity, belonging and the experience of those whose lives cross religious and cultural boundaries. While equally surrounding us with the truly delicious role of food in bringing our communities together. Enabling us all to share our identity through taste, while celebrating the fusion of culture that comes from our global world.
Director: Fernando Grostein Andrade
Release Date: June 2nd 2020 (DVD)
Noah Schnapp also appears in Stranger Things, Waiting for Anya and The Peanuts Movie