Any list of great food movies inevitably includes the same familiar titles. Beautiful, artistic, inspiring. But none moves me the way Fatso does.
Written & directed by Anne Bancroft in 1980, FATSO stars Dom DeLuise as Dominic DiNapoli and Ms. Bancroft as his sister Antoinette. Fatso may not be a “Great” movie. But there is something really wonderful and unforgettable about it. Something that stays with you. In it, all emotions- love, anger, sadness and grief are expressed fully and operatically — and always in tandem with eating.
The opening montage features a series of shots of young Dominic’s childhood as his mother gives him foods as comfort for his tears- her breast, a cannoli, and bread with butter. The first scene intersperses shots of mourners at Dom’s 39-year-old cousin Sal’s wake with shots of the sauce simmering on a stove in the adjacent kitchen. Sal has died from his obesity, but still- the mourners will eat. Like most Italian American families (mine included) life’s important rituals are inextricably tied to food. And Dom has grown into an overweight man.
While there is genuine pathos as Sal’s relatives mourn at his oversized coffin, it is interwoven with comedy. Dom cries “He’s in Heaven now!” then “He’s playin’ his tuba for the angels!” When the priest sends him to get his bereft aunt a glass of water, he passes, weeping, through a swinging door into the kitchen, where the pot of sauce simmers. Crying, he stirs it with a wooden spoon. Tastes, adds salt, mixes, taps the spoon on edge of pan. Slices a piece of Italian bread that he then dunks in the sauce and sprinkles with cheese. Finally, with a sigh of relief, comfort, pleasure Dom eats.
From the kitchen, we hear the arrival of Dom’s sister Antoinette. Bancroft is DIVINE in this role. Funny, exuberant, passionate. And so Italian (Bancroft was born “Anna Maria Louisa Italiano“)
“You sonofabitch!” Antoinette screams at Sal’s coffin. “How many times did they tell you to lose weight!!!??” She shouts, she cries. And then the obligatory- “He looks good.” and “I’m gonna miss you- You sonofabitch!”
She reminds her brother Dom that Sal had skipped his appointment with a “diet doctor” days before his death in favor of a visit to a pizza parlor (Dom:”“Poor Sal. He’ll never eat Apizza again.”). Antoinette tells Dom she doesn’t want to lose him because he’s overweight and tells him she has made an appointment for him with the diet doctor for him.
The scene ends with Dom once again escaping to the kitchen to cry and to eat.
I won’t spoil the rest of the movie by recounting it. But I will tell you it is filled with many scenes that made me laugh till my belly hurt. And moments of incredible tenderness. Bancroft captures so well the rituals food lovers create around what we eat. And DeLuise cooks and eats his food with the focused reverence of a worshipper.
Throughout the film, Dom struggles to lose weight and find love in a culture that bombards him with images of food at every turn. And in a lovely, poignant moment explains “I have to eat- when I eat, I’m me!”
This film is not available on DVD but- for the time being- is viewable in its entirety on YouTube.
Please watch and enjoy. And come back here to let me know what you think.