Films about food are a genre all to their own, and a relatively fool-proof one. As long as there’s an inspiring story and plenty of opportunities to see the characters preparing, cooking and (most importantly) eating some exciting culinary delights, then audiences will come out in droves and leave satisfied - if not a bit hungry. One of the great classics of this strange little genre is Lasse Hallström’s 2000 hit ‘Chocolat’, a great movie that balances character, story and a keen eye for putting food on the big screen, and now Hallström has returned to food with ‘The Hundred-Foot Journey’, once again in a sleepy French village but replacing chocolate with a war between traditional French cuisine and the explosive favours of Indian food.
After being forced from India during political and religious violence, the Kadam family find themselves in the French village of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val. Patriarch Papa (Om Puri) decides to open an Indian restaurant just on the outskirts, with his son Hassan (Manish Dayal), a talented young cook, at the centre. Unfortunately, the location he chooses is a hundred feet away from one of the most acclaimed restaurants in France, run by the imposing Madam Mallory (Helen Mirren). Seeing the Kadam’s restaurant as a disruption to her business, she declares war on them, and Papa goes into battle. Hassan however, driven by a desire to become a professional chef, tries to make a deal with Madam Mallory and end the battle before it descends into racially-led violence.
'THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY' TRAILER
There are a number of similar story elements between ‘The Hundred-Foot Journey’ and ‘Chocolat’, but while Hallström approached the latter as a fable of fairy tale, he tackles this film with a more modern flair. This is helped immensely by the presence of Indian food and culture, an energetic and passionate contrast to the strict and contained French culture across the street. Even though the film, based on the book by Richard C. Morais and adapted by Stephen Knight, doesn’t hold any great narrative surprises, its familiarity works very much in its favour. Just because we can see plot twists and turns coming doesn’t make them any less exciting or the journey less enjoyable.
‘The Hunderd-Foot Journey’ is a delight of a film, filled with great characters, directed with tremendous flair and, most importantly, filled to the brim with mouth-watering food. No-one shoots food like Hallström, and cinematographer Linus Sandgren and designers David Gropman and Pierre-Yves Gayraud take full advantage of the colours and movement that come not just with Indian food, but the culture as well. You can practically smell the food wafting off the screen. Sandgren also chooses to shoot with film as opposed to digital, and this gives the film a warm and organic texture. It might not be pushing cinematic boundaries, but the film has a familiar comfort to it, and crackles with wit and humour throughout. It might feel a tad long, but it never has a dull moment.
‘The Hunderd-Foot Journey’ is a delight of a film, filled with great characters, directed with tremendous flair and, most importantly, filled to the brim with mouth-watering food.
The performances at the heart of the film are all wonderful. Helen Mirren is having a ball as the initially cantankerous Madam Mallory, but her immense talent and intelligence finds the light and shade, and deliver some poignant moments. She also has electric chemistry with Om Puri as Papa, who delivers a bravura performance. The two cultures represented by these figures bash against one another like boulders, and the screen dances with the sparks they let off. It’s one of the great unexpected delight of the film. At its heart though is Manish Daval as Hassan, the young idealist at the centre of the story. Hassan could have come across as two-dimensional, but Daval balances his heart and humanity with an ambitious streak that brings out the worst in him when the narrative asks for it. Stuck between the larger-than-life work from Mirren and Puri, he is a gentle anchor for the film and hopefully a talent to watch. Also notable is Charlotte Le Bon as Hassan’s love interest and chief rival Margueritte, who like Daval, keeps her character from falling into cliché and opts for healthy doses of drive and determination. If the balance of the cast had not been so well placed, the film would not be as entertaining as it is.
Film doesn’t always have to be artistically daring or groundbreaking to work. Sometimes a good story well-told with great characters is enough to make the trip to the cinema worthwhile. Add food into the mix though, and you have a winning recipe almost certain to satisfy. ‘The Hundred-Foot Journey’ warms the heart and torments the belly beautifully, and is a welcome relief from the thunderous blockbusters and the challenging arthouse films it opens against. Switch off your brain, sit comfortably and enjoy a trip into the French countryside with a crazy Indian family, and have a laugh and a cry along the way - but make sure you leave some time free afterwards. Trust me, you’re going to be pretty darn hungry by the end!