The Hundred-Foot Journey
(M) Manish Dayal, Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Charlotte Le Bon
Lasse Hallström’s The Hundred-Foot Journey is based on Richard C. Morais’ bestselling novel about rival restaurants in rural France. But for a seemingly quaint little movie, The Hundred-Foot Journey has some heavy hitters behind it, with Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey acting as producers (Morais’ novel had previously featured in Oprah’s magazine as a “favourite summer read”).
The Kadam family, having fled political violence in India, ruffle some feathers upon their arrival in a provincial French town by opening an Indian restaurant directly across the road from Madame Mallory’s Le Saul Pleurer. While Le Saul Pleurer may have a Michelin star, Papa Kadam has no fear, because Madame Mallory’s restaurant does not have his son, Hassan, whom he believes is the best Indian cook in Europe. What starts out as a bitter rivalry becomes a close friendship as Mallory takes Hassan under her wing, turning him from a great cook into a great chef.
Exploring the soul of food, and the connection of food and family, there is not a lot of new ground being covered here. Hallström himself has previously explored the prejudices of a small French town being broken down with food in Chocolat, and the last couple of years have seen British films like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Slumdog Millionaire taking an interest in Indian culture. But while The Hundred-Foot Journey may not overly original, it is charmingly executed.
The story is very reliant on racial stereotypes, albeit endearingly portrayed racial stereotypes. The French are uptight and culturally elitist. The Indians are loud and colourful. The Hundred-Foot Journey is about a clash of cultures. The journey of the title refers to the hundred feet from the Kadam’s restaurant to Mallory’s, and just as Hassan’s cooking crosses the divide between these seemingly incompatible cultures, so too do the friendships that are forged.
While this is technically a film about Hassan, it is the rivalry and then friendship between Papa and Madame Mallory that is most endearing, with Helen Mirren and Om Puri sharing wonderful on-screen chemistry. Unfortunately, the film loses its trajectory at the 90 minute mark, as the third act puts the other characters to one side in favour of pursuing Hassan’s journey as a celebrity chef in Paris. This section of the film lacks the sweet tone of the first two acts and starts to drag a bit before it is pulled back into line.
With not quite as many gratuitous, mouth-watering images of Indian and French cuisine as the food-porn addicts might have been hoping for, The Hundred-Foot Journey is The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel meets Chocolat, but losing its steam a bit towards the end means it doesn’t end up being quite as good as either.