One hundred feet can be a wall if those on either side of it
Insist the other is a foe too slow or stubborn to submit.
One hundred feet can be a window hewn by wisdom through the wall,
To let the foes perhaps perceive a new perspective to it all.
One hundred feet can be a door where friends once foes come face to face,
Where worlds combine to mix and dine, and fresh potential finds a place.
One hundred feet can be a line between suspicion and respect;
One hundred feet can separate or help two cultures to connect.
There aren’t too many food-centric movies that get special advertising on the Food Network (Julie and Julia was the last I can recall), but The Hundred-Foot Journey warranted it. Produced by Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, this story of Indian restaurateurs immigrating to the world of French cuisine hits all the right flavor notes of a cinematic feast, more low-key than some blockbuster or awards contender but no less satisfying.
Not unlike Life of Pi, the film starts in India, where a food-loving family is forced to flee from civil unrest, and instead of cruising to Canada, they voyage to the lovely French highlands. Led by the unflappable Papa Kadam (Om Puri), they renovate and open their own Indian restaurant, just one hundred feet from an esteemed haute cuisine establishment with a coveted Michelin star. The transplants are immediately seen as a threat by the French restaurant’s owner Madame Mallory (Golden Globe nominee Helen Mirren), and a series of sneaky skirmishes between her and Kadam make them seemingly permanent enemies. Yet when racism rears its ugly head and Kadam’s cook son Hassan (Manish Dayal) displays his culinary talent, both Kadam and Mallory reconsider their biases for the sake of this budding star, food, and friendship.
Hassan’s development in French cuisine brought to mind Remy’s parallel journey in Pixar’s Ratatouille, another story of a culinary superstar “from the gutter,” as it were, who achieves success despite the antagonism between French cooking and his hesitant family. Like Ratatouille, the food is gorgeously rendered and treated as a silent character, whether it be the Indian dishes with curry and garam masala, the petite and elegant portions of Mallory’s Le Saule Pleureur, or the chic molecular gastronomy of Paris. All of the actors evoke a passion for food, and Puri, Dayal, and especially Mirren provide enjoyable performances that grow more endearing with time.
My VC and I both agreed that The Hundred-Foot Journey was among the best films we’ve seen lately, leading to my frustration that it didn’t receive more exposure. It thankfully earned money and reasonably favorable reviews, yet I believe it deserves far more attention. Lasse Hallström’s direction, paired with cleverly subtle special effects and succulent cinematography, made for a delightful culture-spanning watch, though it was wholly snubbed by the awards (except for Mirren’s Globe nomination). The worst thing critics could complain about was that it was predictable, but sometimes the familiar can be just as surprisingly fresh and gratifying as the food with which you grew up. So what if the awards judges can’t seem to recognize a clean, feel-good family drama? It won some stars in my book.
Best line: (Hassan, reminiscing) “Food is memories.”
© 2015 S. G. Liput
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