Title: The Hundred-Foot Journey
Written By: Richard C. Morais, Steven Knight
Publication Info: Amblin / DreamWorks Entertainment (Producers) August 2014
Genre: Contemporary Romance
I am writing this review while eating a dinner of Vanilla Oreos because nothing I have in the house, and nothing I could afford for the next millennium could possibly live up to the food in this movie. I should have eaten first.
The Hundred-Foot Journey is about the push and pull between the melting pot and the salad bowl. (It’s not an American story, but this story does play out across Europe, too.) (Also the south of France is gorgeous scenery porn to go along with the food porn.)
The Kadam family had a restaurant in Mumbai, India, and when it was destroyed, they fled to Europe, and eventually settled in a small village in France. They buy a restaurant across the street from a 1 star Michelin restaurant run by Helen Mirren, with a charming sous-chef named Marguerite (who happens to be of an age with Hassan, the chef in the Kadam family). Hilarity ensues! French tradition versus Indian spices! Indian music versus the quiet serenity of the South of France!
Hassan is a super talented chef- he was taught by his mother, and has the innate ability to know what flavors will go together and how to balance them (Watch Masterchef or Hell’s Kitchen sometime- this is not a universal skill). He also has the ability to improvise when things get weird, which is also not a universal skill.
The things I liked about the movie were that the romance was only an element, and the beta romance was as important as the growing relationship between Hassan and Marguerite. It also addressed the narrow difference between “I don’t like THOSE people” and seeming to sympathize with violent racist people-and how narrow that difference can be. (Mirrin’s character is called out for her efforts to make the Kaddam family’s restaurant fail, and when violent racists get involved, she reconsiders her life choices.)
Another interesting choice is that no dialogue that is not in English is subtitlted. There’s English, French and an Indian language that is possibly Hindi (I know enough about languages in India to know you shouldn’t assume it’s Hindi), and it’s all handled with a deft hand that you don’t need to know precisely what is said, but you get the “dad is bemoaning his rebellious children and whatever shall he do with them!” tone that is universal. I did study French in high school- there was very little I didn’t understand, but they weren’t using complicated French. I think there are some times you have to just accept that a conversation that is given to you in English when there’s no real reason for it, but on the whole, I loved how it was used.
Hassan’s journey is of a kid who learned to cook at his mother’s knee, who then goes on to be trained by the best in the French high-falootin’ culinary world, and how to reconcile where he came from with who the snooty French culinary world wants him to be. It’s a story we’ve all seen in other milieus, but it’s still an important story- how do you integrate without losing yourself? Can assimilation and integration be reconciled?
I would have liked to see some more chracter development of Hassan’s siblings (who…have names, I guess?). What do they want, other than for their father to stop embarrassing them? What are their hopes and dreams? I know it’s really Hassan’s story, but a line or two wouldn’t have bloated anything.
The real star of the this movie is the food (La Mirrin is a goddess, and Manish Dayal, who plays Hassan is SMOKING HOT, but it’s the food. Indian food, French food (there’s a béchamel sauce and a hollandaise that I just want to BATHE in), and fancy-shmancy overly modern gastronomique food. Local, gorgeous ingredients (“Oh, we make that cheese with milk from the goats out back”), delightful markets, and this dish of pigeon with truffle sauce that makes me want to weep. And then eat it all.
Please, learn from my mistake. Do not, do not, DO NOT watch this on an empty stomach. You’ll just be sad. And hungry. And sad you can't fix this hungry properly and you end up eating Oreos for dinner. Don't be like me.