THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY (2014)
Running Time: 122 mins. Rating: x Stars/5 Stars
MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Country: India/United Arab Emirates/USA
Language: English, French and Hindi
Cast: Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Manish Dayal, Charlotte Le Bon, Amit Shah, Farzana Dua Elahe, Dillon Mitra, Aria Pandya, Michel Blanc, Clement Sibony
If good food could end the French and Indian War and lead to rapprochement—at least in the version given us by Lasse Hallstrom’s new movie—then surely the Palestinians and Israelis can get together. After all, French cooking and Indian cuisine are as different as Barack Obama and Sarah Palin, while both Palestinians and Israelis like falafel, hummus, babaganoush and halvah. THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY, then is about how different cultures make a war of sorts across a DMZ of one hundred feet in a small town in the South of France, a film that will find its principal audience among fans of Hallmark green cards but will have appeal across a wide spectrum of folks whose taste in movies is as different as two principal performers played by Om Puri and Helen Mirren.
THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY is right up the alley for its director, known largely for his 2000 film CHOCOLAT, which deals with how a woman and her daughter open up a chocolate shop and break through the rigid morality of the community. This time, a large Indian family under the paterfamilias of their papa (Om Puri), suffer the torching of their Mumbai restaurant during political mayhem, move to England and then wind up in the South of France. They buy, renovate, and open the Maison Mumbai, a daring challenge considering that small-town French people would not likely buy into an exotic cuisine, would not necessarily appreciate the presence of Papa’s family in their monochromatic town, and would surely not abandon a one-star Michelin establishment, Le Saule Pleureur, one hundred feet from the Maison. That restaurant, run by the haughty and demanding Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), is a favorite of the town mayor and others with extra Euros in their pockets. When Papa, who champions the cooking ability of his son Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal), insists on playing Indian music at full volume, he brings on even more disgust from Madame Mallory, who rigid pose covers up her vulnerability: she has been widowed recently.
If you guess that Papa and Mallory will reconcile after a period of cutthroat competition and that Papa’s handsome son will enjoy a cross-cultural flirtation with Mallory’s sous chef, Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), you win a gold star. You’re a fortuneteller who received ample training from viewing movies of the Disney-Touchstone-Dreamworks variety.
Filmed in the village of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val with opening shots in India, THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY is a treat for the eyes. Not only is the village neatly ensconced in the French mountainside; the grand buffet of food from both cultures is mouth-watering, its tastes allegedly evoking childhood memories such as those enjoyed by Marcel Proust when he would eat Madeleines. Much is made of Madame Mallory’s desire for a second Michelin star, a grant she hopes to achieve by exploiting the inventive cooking of young Hassan—who adds cardamom, turmeric, and other Indian spices to classic French dishes. When Mallory objects that he is fighting recipes that are two hundred years old, he states, logically enough, that “that’s long enough.”
One could argue that this film is a fairy tale, that there is no way the snobbish Madame would consider inviting the immigrant family into her life, nor would the smug villagers take a chance on a cuisine known for fiery dishes, particularly when the French cuisine shares with the Chinese and Italian a consensus that it is among the world’s finest and most elegant. Accept that for what it is and you’ll enjoy the tentative romance between Hassan and Marguerite and the inroads that even Papa makes on the Madame, considering that the two older folks are not only from different national cultures but possess wholly distinct personalities. Here is a movie with a PG rating that can be enjoyed by adults as well as children, but leave at the box office your expectation of complexities beyond those of cultural differences.
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