The Hundred-Foot Journey is kind of an opposite of recent sleeper hit The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – an Indian family comes to Western Europe and cultures clash. A superb cast and some really elegant food make for an intriguing recipe.
The film opens with members of the Kadam family explaining to customs officials why they are entering France – to open a restaurant. When Hassan (Manish Dayal) says he’s a cook, an official suggests he’s really a bus boy, but Hassan insists he’s a cook. Papa Kadam (Om Puri) relates the story of why they left India – ‘There was an election of some kind,’ he says as we see a riot engulf the Kadam family restaurant, setting it on fire – and Mama Kadam (Juhi Chawla) being engulfed in flames.
Eventually, the officials stamp their passports and the Kadam family find themselves driving through the South of France. The brakes fail and the family finds themselves in the small town of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val where they are shown unexpected hospitality by Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon (Mood Indigo) – and Hassan finds himself smitten.
By coincidence, the Kadams find a restaurant property for sale – right across the street from a Michelin-starred restaurant owned by Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren). Before you know it, Papa has bought the property and Maison Mumbai is open for business – much to the consternation of Mme. Mallory. Of course, you know, this means war.
Through hard work, persistence and some less than subtle urging by Papa, Maison Mumbai is a success – despite Mme. Mallory’s best efforts. Hassan studies books he found in the restaurant’s kitchen and decides he wants to learn to be a chef, which further complicates things.
Like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The Hundred-Foot Journey is about turning culture clash into multicultural harmony – only this time, the medium for the clash and eventual harmony is food.
The film meanders along like a butterfly, flitting from kitchen sequence to character beat; from kitchen sequence to elegant shots of amazing food. Though it never seems rushed, you get swept up in the warmth of the characters and development of the food/cultural war and inevitable harmonious conclusion.
There are two threads that make The Hundred-Foot Journey a trip worth taking: the fiery back and forth between Papa Kadam and Mme. Mallory, and the odd-footed romance between Hassan and Marguerite – who turns out to be Mme. Mallory’s sous chef.
The four leads – Mirren, Puri, Dayal and Le Bon – are breathtaking. They embody the spiciness of Indian food and the cool elegance of French cuisine – and then they come together in a combination of the two that is fresh and bracing.
Watching Mirren and Puri as they go from trading barbs to détente is a joy – while the straightforward, if rather more awkward, budding romance between Hassan and Marguerite gives Dayal and Le Bon more to play with than the usual romance.
Based on a novel by Richard C. Morais, Steven Knight’s (Eastern Promises, Locke) script is as delicate as a soufflé and almost as tasty. Director Lasse Hallström (Chocolat, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen) builds the film equally as delicately (see: the butterfly metaphor used above) – his slightly off-the-beat pacing enhances the building relationships and the two moments of violence have infinitely more impact because of it.
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