Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Stars: Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Manish Dayal, Charlotte Le Bon.
We’ve already had a tasty mix of spicy Indian food and a tantalising romance earlier in the year with the low key drama The Lunchbox, and we had the irresistible foodie delight with Jon Favreau’s Chef. Now we get another winning combination of mouthwatering food and romance in the latest film from Swedish born director Lasse Hallstrom (My Life As A Dog, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, etc). Hallstrom creates generally feel good films and romantic dramas like Chocolat. And he is in fine form again with the enormously appealing The Hundred Foot Journey, which has been adapted from the best selling novel written by Richard C Morais.
The film has been produced by Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, whose imprimatur gives it a touch of class. It will appeal greatly to those audiences who loved films like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and its ilk. The script itself has been written by Steven Knight (the gritty Eastern Promises, etc) who will make his directorial debut with the tense and claustrophobic drama Locke. But Knight gives the material enough of an edge to keep it from turning into sentimental mush. And Hallstrom maintains a leisurely pace throughout that suits the material.
Hallstrom’s subtle direction also benefits from the presence of veterans in the form of Oscar winner Helen Mirren (The Queen, etc), who can do aloof and imperious with ease, and Indian actor Om Puri (City Of Joy, East Is East, etc), who has a warm and comforting screen persona. They play a pair of rival restaurateurs in a small picturesque French village nestled in the Pyrenees valley.
Puri is the head of the Kadam clan, a family of Indian immigrants who have fled to Europe leaving behind the turbulent upheaval of their homeland hoping for a fresh start. But when the van they are travelling in breaks down outside the village of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val they decide to stay. Papa Kadam spots a decrepit old building and buys it. He renovates the run down property and converts it into the Maison Mumbai, an Indian restaurant that serves up spicy dishes concocted by his son Hassan (Manish Dayal, from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, etc).
Across the road though is the upmarket and elegant and sophisticated La Saule Pleureur, which has a Michelen star and is renowned for its fine cuisine. Even the President of France has dined there. The restaurant is run by the widowed Madame Mallory (Mirren), who is very demanding in her standards and is picky about who works for her. Battle lines are quickly drawn between the two competing restaurants, with the town’s hapless mayor becoming caught in the middle over feuding permits and a host of petty issues.
The situation creates some tension, but also offers up plenty of opportunities for some winning humour. But the rivalry between the two intensifies when Madame Mallory, recognising Hassan’s innate talent poaches him away and turns him into a renowned chef. Hassan also falls for Mallory’s pretty young sous chef Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon, from Mood Indigo, etc).
There is a darker quality to the later sequences of the film when Hassan is whisked away to a luxury restaurant in Paris, where he indulges in fusion cooking, the latest scientific practice far removed from his culinary upbringing, and he finds himself increasingly lost and isolated in a foreign environment.
The film features a breakout performance from the charismatic Dayal, who makes the most of his leading role here with a sensitive and nuanced performance that blends vulnerability, doubt and warmth. Mirren is as usual excellent as the cold, arrogant and lonely Mallory who gradually softens her attitude and haughty nature as the film goes on. And Puri, who can play the strict but soft hearted and irascible patriarch in his sleep, gives a warm and playful performance here that grounds the film.
But there is also an air of predictability about the direction of the script, and most in the audience will be able to pick where this is all headed well before the climax. Nonetheless, The Hundred Foot Journey is an emotionally satisfying, engaging and rich drama about the clash of cultures and class, tolerance, the immigrant experience in a foreign land, and the allure of a well cooked omelette. The postcard pretty locations, beautifully shot by cinematographer Linus Sandgren (American Hustle, etc), add a surface gloss to the material, and the score from A R Rahman (Slumdog Millionaire, etc) effectively underscores the emotional journey of the characters.
The Hundred Food Journey is a satisfying feast for the eyes and the heart, with lots of mouthwatering food and romance. Make sure you have a restaurant reservation for afterwards.