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A film about food
Man of Grease
Directed By: Ezra Soiferman
Move over Morimoto-san, Pasquale and Emeril there's a new chef in town.
Tony Koulakis may not be the leading expert on all things culinary, but after nearly 30 years of serving the masses in Cosmos, his popular Montreal greasy spoon, there is no doubt he has earned his reputation as the "God of Potatoes." His story is captured in The Man of Grease, which has its Canadian premiere at 10 p.m. tonight on TVO.
The poignant, yet quirky, documentary follows the 63-year-old Koulakis as he takes a hiatus from the demanding schedule of his ever-bustling diner, and accompanies him on a long-awaited vacation to his homeland, Greece.
Besides celebrating the comfort and calorie-laden breakfasts that have made Koulakis a local legend, the documentary portrait also speaks with his loyal patrons, family and friends to rediscover the affective potency of food.
Shot mainly in cinema verite, a style in which the director lets events unfold naturally instead of staging them, the film has moments when director Ezra Soiferman draws attention to himself by posing Koulakis questions from behind the camera. This usually elicits a humourously honest response from the cook, especially during the final credits when Soiferman joins his subject in front of the camera to ask if Tony knows his name (which he does not).
Soiferman also makes his presence known in more subtle ways, such as in the hints about the health hazards of the diner. For example, one staged shot features a lit cigarette sitting on the edge of a counter, with its smoke wafting outside the frame into the rest of the kitchen, commenting on Koulakis' chain-smoking habit.
This type of moral commentary is hardly glaring. In fact, Koulakis himself warns his customers not to eat at his diner too often, for fear of the health risks. The documentary takes a closer look at the man beneath the apron, to uncover the passion and dedication of the eccentric immigrant who carved his own haven in a foreign land.
Much of the film has a homespun feel to it, especially in the way it acts as a Koulakis family home video when he returns to his birthplace in Crete. It also serves partly as an exposť on the culture of diners and their longstanding appeal. Like any good film centred on the art of cooking Man of Grease points at the inherent ties between food, family and love.
As a documentary film, Man of Grease has a simplicity much like Koulakis' philosophy, which he resolutely states in his thick accent: "You eat, you happy, and that's it."