This is a Danish film which was made in 2020. It is directed by Barbara Topsoe - Rothenberg and stars Kirsten Olesen, Kirsten Lendfeldt and Stina Ekblad and it is a well-constructed story designed to appeal to a more mature audience. It is the story of three women, who have been friends for years since their school days in fact. The film begins with a short memory of them as schoolgirls jumping into a lake holding hands and then moves fast forward to their respective homes, where they are all celebrating Christmas. Their lives have taken different paths and they have struggled to keep up with one another in the passing years.
The three women, Marie, Vanja and Berling, are all in their early sixties or so I am guessing, so I can certainly relate age-wise. I can also say that there is a bit of a Marie in every one of us, and if I look a little more closely, probably doses of Vanja and Berling as well. This is a story of strong female friendships, of bonds, which go deep, of relationships that are fraught with tensions and testing moments.
They are very different in personality. Marie is the giver, the one who has probably sacrificed herself to her husband and her children, not stopping for a moment to relax in spite of her family's entreaties. She offers them more food, more solace, working hard as a partner with her husband in the office to be the best at what she does. Berling, by contrast, is a little removed and remote from her children. She holds the grandchildren at arm's length as if they have a very stinky nappy. She is more concerned about herself and her own well-being and cuts a shapely sexy figure, but clearly struggles with personal relationships and the ability to give not just to take. And then we have the kind and caring Vanja, who is into the flowing rather sacklike kaftans and her dog, Miller, having lost her beloved husband a few years ago. She is still grieving and sad.
The plot thickens when Henrick, Marie's husband starts an affair with a "sex-crazed garden gnome of a woman" with pink hairbands. There are elements of humour in the film which will make you laugh out loud. Marie is shaken to the core. How could he do this after 44 years of marriage? What she hasn't appreciated is that she too has not been paying much attention to her marriage and they have grown apart. He takes off with his lover and Marie feels distraught. She calls upon her female friends to talk about how her life has fallen apart. Her children had given her a voucher for a cooking school in Puglia, Italy and she offers it to her friends (as she no longer feels she can take it up) but in the end, they all decide to go.
They find themselves in the beautiful olive groves of southern Italy surrounded by the characteristic trulli houses, orchards and great produce. Their handsome host sets about teaching them how to cook Italian dishes and I enjoyed the way a board would display the menu of each day. I might have a go at one of them myself! The women join a group and make the acquaintance of the other members. Among them, a landscape gardener called Jacob who bonds with Vanya. In a peak of frustration and after not getting any response from Henrick, Marie tries to entice Jacob away. On New Year's Eve they all have too much to drink and tempers flare. They reveal their true feelings towards one another of betrayal and abandonment.They speak painful truths which hurt. There is anger and sadness. Age is like the weather they say. You can talk about it but you can't really do anything about it. They are tormented by past behaviour and current unravellings.
Marie is unable to cook and understand the nuances of spicing up her life metaphorically, nor, to the consternation of her Italian host- chef, what she needs to do to her Italian sauces. She is stuck in a groove. Berling realises how lonely and sad and disconnected she is from her family and Vanja has connected with Jacob but rejects him because she is clinging on to the memory of her dead husband. It all seems a little hopeless and desperate and perhaps part and parcel of growing old, which the director does a good job of portraying.
I have good news for you - they find their individual solutions and come out the other side, stronger brighter and more understanding of life and what it has to offer.
They are not solutions we don't all know. There are some stereotypical scenarios which play out here. Nevertheless, it is a useful reminder to take stock of our lives, and of the friendships and bonds we hold dear, but also to pay attention to our own individual relationships with partners and loved ones.
The women return from Italy with a renewed sense of purpose and form the Food Club to put into practice all that they learnt while there. It's a heartwarming pot of goodness, stirred and shaken but ultimately spiced just right.