From the outset, what fascinated me was the meeting of two worlds that don’t seem to fit together at all: the world of haute cuisine—the best chefs in the world, with Massimo Bottura leading the way—and the world of the poor and hungry of Milan. That said, there is a movement among the very best chefs to make their cooking more relevant to real-world issues like poverty and food waste. Massimo says in the film that chefs can no longer cook just for the elite while ignoring ethical issues about how the rest of the planet is fed.
The Refettorio fed some of Milan’s many homeless, as well as refugees from Africa and the Middle East—part of Europe’s current migrant crisis. Most who ate at the Refettorio had never heard of any of the famous chefs. Would they care? Would it mean anything more than any free soup-kitchen meal?
But the philosophy of the Refettorio was different from that of most soup kitchens. There were no lineups. Food was served restaurant-style by volunteers. The place was beautiful, decorated by Italy’s finest artists and artisans. It became a homelike environment. The same guests returned every day. Relationships were formed. So the question arises: What is “home” for a homeless person or a political refugee?
These are the questions the film tackles.
I also wanted to go deeper to humanize the story. To get to know the people the Refettorio fed, as well as the chefs. To see the ethical questions through their eyes as much as the chefs’.
I love the title Theater of Life. The Refettorio was built in an abandoned theatre. Where actors once portrayed real life, real life took over. The film is, I hope, a moving, human, compassionate look at the Refettorio and what happened there.
Peter Svatek - Director