Film Sordid Cinema

‘Abe’ is a Feel-Good Food Film About the Power of Cross-Cultural Cuisine

If there is one thing both Palestinians and Israelis can agree on, it’s that food is very important, and good food is the essential bedrock of any family. I have not met someone from the region without them almost immediately launching into a conversation about eating. Abe takes this self-evident fact as the starting point of the movie, valiantly launching into the more-unites-than-divides-us-feel-good genre through the experiences of one precocious 12-year-old cook. 

Ibrahim, or Avraham (Noah Schapp), depending on who’s asking, is the son of Israeli mother Rebecca (Dagmara Dominczyk) and Palestinian father Amir (Arian Moayed). They live in the biggest melting pot of all, Brooklyn, New York, where the grandparents regularly come over and debate all things related to the ongoing conflict. But Abe is far more interested in learning how to cook like a professional chef. He tracks down Brazilian fusion chef Chico (Seu Jorge) and begs him for lessons. 

Noah Schnapp, from Stranger Things fame, excels in the lead role, crucially because he isn’t a beyond-his-years genius but a normal kid trying to navigate his way through a complex situation. Without any regular friends — most of his interactions take place online — he looks to adult figures for guidance and actually bothers listening to what they have to say. Likewise, Abe doesn’t take a stance on the Israel-Palestine divide but still listens to both perspectives, suggesting a shared love of food as perhaps the only thing that can truly unite everyone. 

Fusion food, we are told, acts as a bridge between cultures; a way of celebrating the ways in which disparate cuisines can come together to eventually create something even better. Leaving questions of cultural appropriation, over-priced gastropubs, and soulless around-the-world buffets aside, when done right, it can promote the power of cultural collaboration unlike anything else. Here we have a smorgasbord of matzo balls, falafel, hummus, and msabbha that will make you want to head to a Middle-Eastern restaurant straight away. 

Nonetheless, anyone expecting a meaningful treatise on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict through food will be sorely disappointed, yet, to be fair to Abe, this doesn’t really seem to be the aim of the movie anyway, which makes some points on how it’s unwise to expend all your energy trying to solve other people’s problems. Credit must go to Brazilian director Fernando Grostein Andrade, who although of Jewish stock, hired Palestinian writers to make give the Islamic perspective some more depth. Yet it still doesn’t go that far, leaving us with a fairly light concoction, which although heavy on the cheese, goes down pretty smoothly.

I’m using clichés because the film is full of them. After all, feel-good food films cannot avoid the trap of clichéd thinking: if you are drawing comparisons between the kitchen and matters of love, it’s impossible not to resort to food metaphors to describe abstract emotions. Abe is a product of the genre, and while not reaching the heights of similar films such as Today’s Special or A Touch of Spice, it nestles in between films such as Burnt and No Reservations rather nicely. 

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