Mistura: The Power of Food (2010). Peru, 45 minutes. Directed by Patricia Perez. Starring: Gastón Acurio, Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, and Grimanesa Vargas.
Patricia Perez’s documentary illustrates the life and culture embedded in Mistura, an annual gastronomic fair in Lima, Peru. While the exquisite food—ranging from succulent ceviche dishes to artisan breads and kabobs known as anticuchos—is a big draw for the festival, it’s clear from the onset that the ingredients of this festival extend beyond the edible. As Gastón Acurio, a renown Peruvian chef, explains in the opening of the film, “If you want to live, feel, dance, cry, eat, sing, kiss, love, and never forget…eso es Mistura.” Perez’s documentary does an incredible job of showcasing the various layers of the festival, including its history, food, music, and, most importantly, the people who make it all come together.
One of the primary goals of Mistura is to highlight the pride that Peruvians have in their country. As Acurio explains,“We [Peruvians] have been an independent nation in terms of government and territory for almost two hundred years. However, until recently, Peruvians couldn’t free ourselves from the emotional colonization that we had been accustomed to living.” This emotional independence shines through Mistura, reflecting Peruvian independence through what Acurio describes as “fashion, cinema, culture, and gastronomy.
As a viewer relatively unfamiliar with Peruvian culture, I was welcomed to the spirit of Peru though Perez’s careful combination of color, dialogue, and sound. A frame focusing on delectable anticuchos from “Grimanesa Vargas’ Anticucho” stand is followed by shots of traditional dance and song taking place at a Mistura parade. Here, Perez captures the the color compliments in the ceviche (purple and white onions with green limes) being carried on paper plates with the traditional costumes (purple, white, and green skirts or “polleras”) of street dancers who sing about the flavor (sabor!) surrounding them. The music in the backdrop, featuring selections from Novalima’s “Afro Lima” and Eva Ayllon’s “Eva Leyenda Peruana” is brilliantly aligned with the visuals from the festival, focusing on people dancing on the streets, lining up at the stands, and eating together. Once all the ingredients come together for the gathering in Lima, the streets are filled with spectators who line up at various stands eager to partake in the excitement. Perez shifts from shots of Acurio discussing the festival to colorful images of exquisite dishes being served on the city streets. She directs our attention from Wong’s Mistura stand to the hundreds of people lined up outside taking pictures of chefs who have become celebrities at Mistura.
Perez combines vibrant scenes from Mistura with dialogue from major festival participants, including chef Gastón Acurio, chef Javier Wong, and farm worker/“soldier of biodiversity” Julio Hancco, who illustrates the role of Peru’s indigenous population in the organization and execution of Mistura. Through narratives from these individuals, Perez presents a vision of Peru’s varied racial and linguistic makeup. Wong discusses the connections between Mistura, his cooking and his identity, explaining, “I carry the United Nations in my blood: Spanish, Sephardi, Italian, Chinese, Andean. So imagine, each of them turns into different flavors … Peru works the same way.” This unity described through Wong’s words is evident in each ingredient highlighted by Perez. Like the music, dance, and food that are inseparable aspects of Mistura, the ingredients going into the food are largely interconnected.
Though Mistura as a whole represents successes in Peruvian culture, Perez echoes these large-scale successes with individual stories of triumph and progress. One of the most compelling stories is from Grimanesa Vargas, a single mother who started making anticuchos “by accident” when, working as a maid, she served them to her boss on a whim. After saving enough money to open her anticucho stand on the streets of Lima, Vargas’ popularity earned her an invitation to Mistura, where she is now one of the most successful vendors. Perez portrays Vargas’ acclaimed celebrity status at the festival, zooming in on Vargas’ face sparkling from camera flashes spreading through the crowd as she walks to her anticucho stand.
While Perez could have easily highlighted Vargas’ anticuchos by showing them directly, she instead combines images of the anticuchos themselves with commentary from Vargas and her clients, all of whom gather daily to enjoy Vargas’ stories along with her food. This in turn transforms street dining into an experience, a blending of food and culture that is captured directly through Perez’s camera.
After watching this documentary, I can describe Peruvian culture through ceviche, sachampesino, anticuchos, and through the figurative and literal dancing surrounding the events that allow these dishes to come together. Perez’s creative layering of Mistura’s ingredients make this an engaging, worthwhile documentary for viewers from various backgrounds and interests.