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  • Writer's pictureBen Kemper

The Hundred Foot Journey

Or: Flavorful fusion

The best advice I can offer for seeing the Hundred Foot Journey is not to come hungry. Lasse Hallstrom’s direction balances itself on the pillar of food appreciation (equally divided between nubile french cuisine and pulsating indian favorites). The visual metaphors (steaming pots and steaming cooks, passions kindled while lighting a stove, and, taken to extremes in an “innovative” Parisian kitchen, peculiar concoctions signaling the entombment of society and the human soul). The only thing more sumptuous that the fresh vegetables and meats being prepared for their glorious deaths by digestion is the portrait of Saint-Antonin-Nobel-Val the exquisite village in the South of France, flavored, doubtlessly by a healthy handful of CGI).

Based on the novel by Richard C. Morais, the story unfolds around Kadam family, an ancient line of Mumbai cooks, and the second son Hassan (Manish Dayal), who shows the makings of a true master of the kitchen. When political violence claims both their business and the life of their matriarch, Papa Kadam (Om Puri), relocates the family to europe where, through a strange turn of events and the kindness of Marguerite (Charoltte Le Bon) a sous chef, they choose to settle and reopen their restaurant in a small french village.

Unfortunately Papa’s “Manse Mumbai” sits only a hundred paces across the street from a legendary palace of French dining, run by Madame Mallory (Dame Helen Mirren). A low-simmer war erupts between Papa and the Madam, with Hassan caught in the middle, one finger upon his old life and one finger upon the pulse of the new.

Lightly sprinkled with a light lemony romance with lively undertones by the music of A.R. Rahman, The Hundred Foot Journey is a tasteful fusion of styles (dovetailing from uplifting to depressive to horrifying to snicker up your sleeve silly) and plucking from all sorts of recipes for success (everything from the Babette’s Feast to Hindi whoppers like Devdas and Swades). However it is in only rare moments that the cream of a truly excellent film rise to the surface, leaving a buttery base of highly enjoyable but uninspired story. Dayal and Le Bon (“Charlotte The Good” is now the official holder of the 2014 Aven Tavishel Nifty Name award) are both endearing to a fault but give the impression of dresden dolls (beautifully crafted objects with fascinating expressions but limited in both scope and feeling).

Thus the heart of the film must pump its blood through more familiar arteries. Om Puri, whose iconic face one would not expect capable of any expression beyond irascible disapproval, gives a stirling performance, juggling grief and a sharp sense of comedy. Even Juhi Chawla (Hassan’s doomed mother, who barely nicks up a quarter hour of screen time) manages a flash-fried moment of excellence, explaining the mystical nature of her profession to her son and successor. And then, of course, you have Mirren. Whether in the subtly of a lowed eye-lid or the straightening of a few vertebrae, a venomous whisper, a joy addled tap dance or even suggestion of the smile playing behind the mask of her frosty french reserve, Mirren’s performance would make the film a delicacy in its own right, and remains the most textured and soulful and alive element in the whole feast.

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