Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Starring: Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Manish Dayal, Charlotte Le Bon
Lasse Hallstrom, acclaimed Swedish director of the hugely successful Chocolat (2000), brings another food-related film to the table with The Hundred Foot Journey, also set in France.
The Kadam family runs a successful restaurant in Mumbai, India, which is one day hit by tragedy after the matriarch (Juhi Chawla) is killed in a religious riot. The family’s cherished business torched, Papa Kadam (Om Puri) decides to emigrate to Europe in an attempt to rebuild their shattered existence. The fact that their camper van breaks down in the idyllic French village of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val is interpreted as a sign from the late mother that they should put down roots and Papa Kadam subsequently purchases an abandoned building on the outskirts of the town.
Despite objections from his five children, he then decides to resurrect the family business and names his new venture Maison Mumbai. One hundred feet away, on the opposite side of the street, stands Le Saule Pleureur, a Michelin-starred upper class establishment owned by Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), a widow who is suitably horrified by the gaudiness of Maison Mumbai’s decor and loud music, prompting her to remark: “If your food is anything like your music, I suggest you turn it down.”
The amusing rivalry continues between the two disparate eateries, with Madame Mallory trying everything in her power to sabotage the opposition. Much to her chagrin, however, Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal), a gifted and imaginative chef, ensures the success of Maison Mumbai. Ultimately, racial intolerance rears its ugly head and causes a surprising shift in the relationship between the warring neighbours.
Hassan’s flair with food eventually takes him away from his family, but he returns in a romantic sub-plot with Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), a beautiful sous-chef at Le Saule Pleureur, having matured considerably in the interim.
Linus Sandgren’s cinematography makes The Hundred Foot Journey visually stunning, while A.R. Rahman’s musical score is both stirring and uplifting throughout. The film has also been perfectly cast and there are laudable performances all round, despite an overly sentimental screenplay featuring such cliches as Papa Kadam’s line: “Where the family is, that is home.”
Fourteen years on from Chocolat, Hallstrom appears unwilling to let go of that formula and tries to recreate it with an Indian twist, though sadly The Hundred Foot Journey has none of the scope of his former venture, because the characters feel slightly underdeveloped by contrast and less engrossing for that reason.
To its credit The Hundred Foot Journey is devoid of any vulgarity and violence and boasts plenty of humour, thereby rendering it suitable for family viewing. The 2 hour plus running time, though, could easily have been condensed by a good twenty minutes, as the screenplay starts to run out of steam halfway through the story. The second half feels rushed and predictable and the ending so abrupt, that one is dissatisfied with the film’s conclusion; all in all, The Hundred Foot Journey delivers more of a takeaway than a gourmet experience!