Saturday 13 September 2014

Movie Review: The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014)

A feel-good story of cultures clashing then reconciling in rural France, The Hundred-Foot Journey offers grown-up entertainment in a pleasantly predictable package.

Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal), a young Indian man, was taught how to cook by his Mama (Juhi Chawla). Tragedy strikes when Mama is killed and the family restaurant owned by Papa Kadam (Om Puri) is burned to the ground by an enraged mob following disputed elections. The surviving Kadams emigrate to Europe, and eventually stumble onto an abandoned restaurant property just outside a quaint town in France. Papa purchases the land and builds his dream Indian restaurant with Hassan as the chef, much to the disgust of Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), who owns an haute cuisine French restaurant across the street.

Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon) works as a sous-chef with Madame Mallory, and she starts a tentative friendship with Hassan, which evolves into a romance. Madame Mallory's establishment is proudly recognized with a single coveted Michelin star, and she craves winning a second star. But with the noisy Indian restaurant suddenly offering competition and disrupting her staid environment, a tense stand-off erupts between the two establishments, with a racist undercurrent. But Hassan's burgeoning talent will not be denied, and his rising reputation takes him on an unexpected journey.

Directed by Lasse Hallström from a script by Steven Knight, perhaps The Hundred-Foot Journey's tone and intent are best revealed by the producing team of Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey. This is an elegant film, oozing with classy performances, filled with beautiful scenery, and singularly focussed on teasing out the best of what makes seemingly discordant cultures work together. That the ending is preordained, and that romance will flourish despite cultural barriers, comes with this territory.

The blending of Hollywood and Bollywood in neutral France works well, with Helen Mirren perfectly haughty as the widow denying her emotions by throwing her soul into perfecting her already impeccable restaurant. Bollywood veteran Om Puri matches her with a performance of grace and determination. Papa Kadam is man more stubborn than he at first appears, holding on to Indian traditions but not beyond raising his elbows and adapting as needed to ensure that his family not only survives but thrives in their new environment. Both Madame Mallory and Papa Kadam will have to overcome some of life's deeper scars before coming to terms with each other.

The romance between the younger couple Hassan and Marguerite is ironically more traditional, complete with bicycle rides through the countryside. The complications emerge in the form of career competitiveness. Marguerite is at first welcoming and helpful, but once Hassan's talent as a potential star chef becomes clear, she struggles with the sudden and unexpected threat to her own ambitions.

The final third of the film smoothly switches gears, as peace breaks out between the competing restaurants and the journey becomes that of Hassan, the talented immigrant struggling with the definition of success, the importance of family, and the unfinished business of the heart. The journey starts with the first hundred feet, but it's ultimately the trip of globalisation, around the world to define the new meaning of home.

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