Warning: This is a film that will make you hungry!
Last Sunday afternoon, with the rain setting in and a deadline looming, all I wanted to do was escape to the cinema and lose myself in an entertaining movie. And that’s what happened with ‘The Hundred-Foot Journey’.
For those who like their films dark and serious, this is not the motion picture for you. Essentially it's light, fluffy and, dare I say, predictable. But, strangely enough, it's the film’s predictability that makes it comforting, much like a fragrant curry you cook on a cold winter’s day, knowing it will warm your tummy and boost your spirits.
‘The Hundred-Foot Journey’ is the story of the Kadam family, whose restaurant in Mumbai is burnt down in a riot, and who lose their beloved matriarch in the fire. They emigrate to the UK but find the English weather depressing. So they cross to the Continent where they buy an old van and drive south. As luck (or the screenwriter) would have it, the brakes fail on the outskirts of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val, which just happens to be one of the most beautiful villages in south-western France. Papa, played engagingly by veteran Indian actor, Om Puri, has a little chat with his dead wife and decides to buy a rundown restaurant just outside the village. The only problem is that a hundred feet across the road is a ritzy Michelin-star establishment run by elegant widow, Madame Mallory. You can already see where it’s heading, can’t you? The perfect movie for baby boomers – in the spirit of ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’. Throw in Papa’s good-looking younger son, Hassan Haji, who’s a talented but untrained cook, and Marguerite (Montreal-born Charlotte Le Bon), the pretty sous-chef at Mme Mallory’s restaurant, and you have something for the Gen Y members of the audience as well – not that there was anyone under fifty in the cinema last Sunday.
Initially, of course, there’s a clash of cultures and food styles – Mme Mallory’s restrained French elegance versus the Kadams’ earthy joie de vivre; the Frenchwoman’s classic haute cuisine and tastefully decorated restaurant in contrast to the hearty dishes, loud music and vibrant colour scheme of the Kadams’ courtyard eatery.
The antagonistic exchanges between Papa and Mme Mallory which arise from these differences are a delight to watch. At first though, I did wonder why the very English Helen Mirren had been cast in the role of Mme Mallory when there are plenty of famous French or French-Canadian actresses d’un certain âge (the lovely Isabelle Huppert, for example, or Geneviève Bujold) who could have played the part. Yet I concede that Mirren’s French is rather good, even to mastering the difficult uvular ‘R’, and so is her accented English. There were just a few occasions, however, when I was looking at her in profile with her shortish curled hair and suddenly saw the Queen! Fortunately those moments were brief and infrequent.
It’s Om Puri's Papa with his velvety voice and gruff charm who holds this film together. I have to confess I’d never heard of him before reading the credits, and I had to Google him to learn about his prestigious career. It turned out I had seen him before, a much younger version of himself in ‘The Jewel in the Crown’, a miniseries I enjoyed back in the Seventies (with the gorgeous Art Malik).
As a foodie, I loved the food preparation scenes. The timing of the film was perfect for me too, considering I’m in culinary withdrawal following the end of the ‘Master Chef’ season. Like the popular TV reality show, this film celebrates the psychological aspects of cooking and eating, the fact that certain dishes evoke special memories. As Hassan’s mother tells him at the start of the film: ‘When you cook, you make ghosts.’ Mama doesn’t mean scary ghosts, she’s talking about pleasant echoes of the past. And it’s true, isn’t it? A roast leg of lamb with mint sauce can still summon up memories of my grandmother and her perfectly laid dining table. The enticing smell of golden syrup gently heating in a saucepan can take me back to my mum making batches of ANZAC biscuits to put in our school lunches.
Food isn’t incidental to this film. It’s ever-present and warmly evocative. I swear there were times when I could actually smell the cardamom, coriander and cumin. And I’d never realised that the making of Hollandaise sauce could be so sensuous.
Like a fragrant curry, ‘The Hundred-Foot Journey' is both comforting and delicious. Recommended for those who like heartwarming, feel-good films.
August 21, 2014