The Hundred-Foot Journey – Review by Frank L
Director: Lasse Hallström
Writers: Steven Knight (screenplay), Richard C. Morais (book)
Stars: Helen Mirren, Om Puri, ManishDayal
Released in Ireland on September 5th
On the approaches to an idyllic village in the South of France stands somewhat aloof, a Michelin starred restaurant run by Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren) a widow of indeterminate years. To her disdain and contempt exactly opposite, separated by a mere hundred feet, on the other side of the road an Indian family, Kadam, headed by its widower patriarch (Om Puri) set up an Indian restaurant called Maison Mumbai. Both proprietors are passionate advocates of the excellence of their own national cuisine and Madame Mallory craves a second Michelin star for her restrained but elegant establishment. She is not pleased to have an ethnic Indian restaurant in all its gaudiness pitched up so close to her carefully nurtured temple of haute cuisine. She tries various stratagems to have it closed. He counter attacks.
However hidden in the family Kadam, is a nascent chef of genius, one of the sons Hassan (Manish Dayal). He wants to understand the great culinary traditions of France. He is fascinated by them. He reads all he can. One of his teachers, albeit reluctantly, is a pretty sous chef chez Madame Mallory, Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon). From their first encounter it is clear he is not only interested in Marguerite’s culinary skills. She does not reciprocate.
In this culinary inspired mise en scene, ingredients are mixed and stirred, nationalism and racism are mixed and stirred and old fashioned manners and decencies are mixed and stirred and out of these multiplicity of combinations a feel good movie is concocted.
There are excellent close ups of vegetables being chopped in both kitchens and mouth-watering dishes laid out in such an enticing way that purrs and murmurs of appreciation are inevitable from the diners. However what ensures the film has a zest is the fine inter action between Om Puri and Helen Mirren. Both actors are able to show their skills; in this instance he as a stubborn, somewhat gauche outsider and she the austere, obsessional, sophisticated widow but each has a hidden humanity which both manage to discover in the other. .. the result is a charming pas de deux and an engaging tour de force.
Regrettably the subplot between the two young chefs falls, like a soufflé that hits a draught, somewhat flat. As do the scenes in a super de luxe restaurant of the up-to-date contemporary kind where too much whizz kid technology manages to dispel any sense of culinary joie de vivre. But what remains are the performances of Helen Mirren and Om Puri which are worth seeing as is the deft knife work of the kitchen staff as they chop dexterously all those beautiful vegetables.