Oscar-nominated director Lasse Hallström serves us a tasty treat in the fairy-tale style of his previous, acclaimed Chocolat (2000). The underlying ingredient that spices up the story this time is more than just dainty sweets. This one is surprisingly gratifying.
Produced by Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, “The Hundred-Foot Journey” is adapted from the light-hearted novel of the same name by Richard C. Morais. Oscar nominated screenwriter Steven Knight (Eastern Promises, 2007) has done a marvelous job in turning the cartoonish style of a book into a robust and more complex cinematic parable, with dashes of humor and clever dialogues for added delights.
The story is most relevant today in our world overwhelmed by warring differences and conflicts. It is an immigrant story. It also presents an ideal case of how cultures can coexist and harmony can be found in diversity.
The Kadam family leaves India after the tragic loss of their mother and their family restaurant in a fire caused by an angry mob. After a short stay in London, Papa (Om Puri) leads his family to settle in the picturesque village of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val in Southern France. The first few minutes of back story is concise and captivating.
Papa soon finds a derelict restaurant for sale. His own Maison Mumbai, the first Indian restaurant in the vicinity is subsequently opened, a seemingly arduous venture. Papa is a headstrong patriarch, undeterred by the initial protests of his sons, and the Michelin starred Le Saule Pleureur across the street. The proprietor of that haute cuisine establishment is the formidable Madam Mallory (Helen Mirren), who is determined to drive her competitor out.
On opposite sides of this one-hundred-foot wide roadway thus rage the battle of sights, sounds, and aromas, of spices and sauces, ambiance and costumes, an all-out war of clashing cultures.
Hassan (Manish Dayal) is the head cook of the Kadam family. He has learned the skills from his late mother; loving memories of her cooking fuel his gastronomic passion. Furthermore, Hassan is endowed with a distinct talent for the culinary art. He is most ready to explore brave new tastes.
The young sous chef across the street, Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), plays no small part in Hassan’s curiosity of French cooking. The two strike up an ambivalent relationship as both friends and foes.
After Madam Mallory discovers the gift in Hassan, she offers to take him under her wings. Such a proposition is, expectedly, rejected by Papa. However, it is Hassan’s decision and passion after all. His determination soon overrides the objection from Papa.
By taking his first step to cross the great hundred-foot divide, Hassan turns the page of both parties in the cuisine conflicts. His journey ultimately leads to an additional Michelin star for Le Saule Pleureur and fame for himself. Hassan’s excelling and competing in the qualifying challenge in Paris is the bridge reconciling the two sides of the road.
It is fun to see the hostile rivals Madam Mallory and the patriarch of the Kadam family coming together. Their changed demeanor brings out the latent, better qualities of each other, offering us some nuanced performance and heart-warming scenes. I must note that there were constant, spontaneous laughs and even restrained applause in the theatre of the preview screening I was in.
The film itself is a smorgasbord of international talents. Acclaimed Swedish director Lasse Hallström takes the helm. English Screenwriter Steven Knight adapts a novel by Richard C. Morais, an American born in Portugal and raised in Switzerland. English star Dame Helen Mirren masters some French accented English dialogues, her previous Oscar winning role as The Queen is amusingly embedded. Papa Om Puri is a veteran Indian actor with a British OBE honor. Mandish Dayal who plays Hassan is American born of Indian descent; his love interest is the up-and-coming actress Charlotte Le Bon (also in Yves Saint Laurent, 2014), a French-Canadian from Montreal.
Director of photography Linus Sandgren (American Hustle, 2013, Swedish born BTW) entices viewers with his close-ups of fresh fruits, vegetables, spices, and market offerings. For those who may wonder, those spiked, round objects are sea urchins. The agile and well-paced sequences of food being prepared are most effective. In contrast, the wide-angle, bird’s eye views of the picturesque Southern France countryside are equally mesmerizing.
Music is an important ingredient in the film. Composed by the prolific A. R. Rahman, who won two Oscars for his work in Slumdog Millionaire, the score adds a distinguished Indian flare. With the lively Indian music juxtaposed against the backdrop of serene Southern France, the film offers viewers some interesting mixes of sights and sounds.
There are times when the editing could be tighter, scenes that need to be made clearer and more coherent, especially in the last third of the film. However, the overall production is a delicious offering. The gratifying finish serves the idea that, apart from the Michelin, home is where the ultimate star is to be found, a thought to savor and an enticement for tasting it all over again. I know I will go for a second helping.
~ ~ ~ Ripples
Dec. 11: Helen Mirren gets a Golden Globe nom for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical
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