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|Cinema Signal: Not quite a green light but has elements of strong appeal for a limited audience.|
Sing Like an American Idol, Women's Edition
Everything You Need to Sing the Hits!
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"The Perfect Cappuccino"
In a variation on the old saying about like minds, let me say that it's equally true about like tastes. The common denominator in this case isn't just coffee, it's Italy, and the powerful force it exerts with its history with the coffee bean. The country is also a leader in design, in moviemaking, in fashion, olive oil and wine! There is a pervading atmosphere of intense politics and warm welcomes and it is second to none in history and monuments.
In terms of how this documentary treats this extraordinary country in terms of tastebud arousal, let me explore the effect it has had on three people with like tastes.
I'll start with mine. I was on location, based in Rome, when the joy of being surrounded by coffee bars gave me a whole new perspective on civility. Before my sojourn there, I had a hazy concept of Italian coffee (though a better one of Italian wines). I never felt so much at home away from my Hollywood digs; I was in a country that had its priorities straight.
So, you can imagine my interest when Amy Ferraris, the third person of my narrative, put out the word that she not only journeyed the same trails that I and Howard Schultz had so many years before, but that she had a camera and a grant to record her quest for the so-called "perfect" cappuccino. This I had to see.
To enrich her thesis she interviews baristas from Rome to Tulsa, Oklahoma with educational closeups of the beautiful brown liquid emerging from their machines' portafilters. She furthers her study by introducing us to other professionals, the roasters, coffee bar owners, an Italian coffeemaker historian or two and a good cross section of the craft who openly share their techniques and philosophies of what they consider perfection.
Occupying the most footage is heroic Brian, the owner of that Tulsa coffeeshop who provides the drama of the piece by relating his lawsuit with Starbucks over his choice of store titles, the "Doubleshot" which the chain considers trademarked. See what results when, during Ferraris's third visit, they ask him to change the name of his store.
While it's true that Starbucks has taken the beverage into areas the Italians never dreamed of, adapting it to the commercial marketplace and the tastes of its patrons, Ferraris expresses her thesis by pointing out that the perfect cappuccino is not to be found there. She makes unarguable the point that catering to a less demanding retail crowd is not how perfection is achieved. But in giving us a picture of its widespread presence, there is also the subtext that for most people who tread these territories, convenience is an abiding factor in the choices they make.
Sure, their product is inferior to that of the brave baristas running their independent specialty shops and competing for our coffee dollars by sheer product quality. That message is clear, and she does a great service by writing, directing and producing this film. Any true coffee lover may well wish for her its wide distribution so that more patrons will discover what a certain three people did. But, for a fuller scope of the coffee phenomenon, one might well wish that she'd included something on the home brewing industry or showed some awareness of coffee forums on the web. Coffee bar owners aren't the only ones passionate about the brew and you exclude home roaster/brewers from consideration at your and your film's peril.
Which is why there are menus, and so many restaurants. You can't argue taste. And, while I truly admire Ferraris's concentration on a subject that is personally meaningful, her film, very, very educational as it is, recommendable as it is, doesn't go far enough. Nor does it cast a spell of forgetfulness about an overriding truth: the minute you start talking about "perfect," you're in a spot of trouble.
~~ Jules Brenner