CAPSULE: A family of Indian refugees in France establishes an Indian restaurant right across the street from a renowned French restaurant. This starts a conflict between the two owners, played by Helen Mirren and Om Puri. The story is at times effective and affecting. But the plot is too straightforward and has no surprises. Lasse Hallstrom directs a screenplay by Steven Wright. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
There is a small genre of movies that attempt to seduce the viewer with their sensuality. The goal is to get the viewer drooling while watching the screen. These films set off some of our most primitive instincts, appealing physically not below the belt, but not far above it either. These are films that seduce with beautiful gourmet food. They are films that intend to leave you hungry, but not for food from the Golden Arches. Films like BABBETTE'S FEAST, LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE, BIG NIGHT, TAMPOPO, and EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN. There is even a sub-genre devoted only to chocolate. THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY is Lasse Hallstrom's film of the clash of two food cultures illustrated with "food porn."
The Kadam family has a long tradition of fine Indian cooking in their Mumbai restaurant, but it does not save them from becoming political refugees when their party is on the losing side of an election. [I was not clear on what was happening with the riot. The timing and location was about right for it being the Bombay Riots, but that does not fit the description.] Wandering from country to country they are passing through France when the character only known as "Papa" (Om Puri) sees for sale the building of a defunct restaurant. In spite of being warned that the French do not seem to like Indian food, he wants to open a restaurant at the edge of town with the kind of cooking he did in Mumbai. And thus Maison Mumbai is born.
One snag is that Maison Mumbai is just across the road from a Michelin-one-star restaurant owned and ruled over by the formidable Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren). Mallory has devoted her life to earning a second Michelin star and offering the absolute perfect dining experience--one in which the food is perfect, the serving is perfect, and there is not Indian music and spice smells wafting in from across the road. She determines to do all that she can to scuttle the efforts of the Indian restaurant across the street. Papa's biggest asset is his son Hassan (Manish Dayal), who has instincts in cooking so perfect they could make him a nationally known treasure. And Hassan is particularly interested in Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), Mallory's sou-chef who is becoming a formidable gourmet chef herself.
What eventually happens is probably just what you expect to happen. This is not a complex story and it does not have a lot of twist. The screenplay based on a novel by Richard C. Morais, adapted by Steven Wright (who wrote and directed the very fine films EASTERN PROMISES and LOCKE). THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY is in part about transforming standard recipes with the addition of tiny subtle changes. Good food should have something to pleasurably surprise the palate of the person eating it. But ironically the film does not surprise the viewer much at all. It does exactly what the viewer expects it to do. A few unexpected plot twists and surprises would have been welcome for this consumer. Instead the film always is just exactly what the audience is expecting, like cinematic comfort food. The plot of this film follows a standard recipe with a garnish of food porn photography.
American and British film fans will probably know Helen Mirren as a terrific actress. But Om Puri, who plays Papa, should be seen more in US films. In spite of what is not conventionally considered good looks--he has a large nose cratered like a moonscape. But he has a deep sonorous voice that commands attention. His films include GANDHI, HEY RAM, CITY OF JOY, and THE GHOST AND THE DARKNESS. Linus Sandgren's cinematography somehow was ambitious but not always effective. Some scenes seemed washed out. One scene show a sunset that seems to turn an entire valley orange. It grabs attention but does not seem a particularly beautiful effect. On the other hand the food photography takes no chances in presenting seductive food images. The producers of this film include Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg.
The film is strong if unsurprising and does exactly what the filmmakers and the audience wanted it to do. I rate it a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. One curiosity point: Hassan inherited a case of spices that he uses on special occasions. I think of Indian cuisine as requiring spices to be fresh which these certainly were not. Hassan seems to use spices that are not well sealed and which are several years old. Does this make sense?
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2980648/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_hundred_foot_journey/
Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2014 Mark R. Leeper