Do you like Hallmark movies? “The Hundred-Foot Journey” is a very family-friendly foodie fantasy. The movie is rated PG for some violence, language and brief sensuality, but really, your kids would have seen worse from beer commercials and MTV music videos.
Although this movie is directed by Swedish Lasse Hallström (“Chocolat” and “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape”), it was produced Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey and takes on the schmaltz of one and the comfortable homeyness of the other. Based on a book by Richard C. Morais with a screenplay Steven Knight (“Locke” and “Dirty Pretty Things”), “The Hundred-Foot Journey” whisks us away from tragedy in Mumbai to a brief stop in England and then to the South of France.
Morais is the editor of of “Barron’s Penta” which his website tells us is a qartly magazine and website that offers “insights and advice to wealthy families.” Morais had previously worked for Forbes magazine for 25 years and Morais has an international upbringing–born in Portugal, raised in Switzerland and the stationed in London (17 years for Forbes).
The movie isn’t particularly concerned with history so much as teaching us a lesson: That understand food is a means of understanding a culture and the love of food can form a delicious bridge over culture. That’s very romantic.
The movie begins as a young man explains to a uniformed man why he wishes to enter Europe. The man, Hassan (Manish Dayal), recalls Mumbai where as a young boy, Hassan (Rohan Chand) who finds rapture with a sea urchin in a crowded marketplace while with his mother (Juhi Chawla). Hassan grows up learning about cooking from his mother. She has the gift of gourmet genius and that gift has been passed down to her eldest son.
Mumbai was renamed in 1996, having been formerly known as Bombay, and is the most populous city in India. From Mumbai, recent events that would not be family friendly (e.g. rape) have become an international issue. In the movie, the mob only wishes to destroy the restaurant and home of the Kadam family. The mother dies in the fire, and the father (Om Puri (“Love Express” and “The Jewel in the Crown” mini series) moves the whole family to England where they live in a small house in the flight pass to Heathrow.
Now, Papa loads his family of three sons and two daughters into a rickety van and they venture into France. This is a France that is, despite being on the Mediterranean Coast, at one end of the silk trade routes, ignorant of Indian cuisine. As the British had been in India from 1612, the French also had sent ships to India in the 16th century and there was a French India Company. The so-called French India dates from 1769 to 1954. After the East India Company rule of India from 1757 to 1858 there was the British Raj from 1858 to 1947.
The movie was filmed in Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val, Tarn-et-Garonne, and Castelnau-de-Lévis, Tarn, France. This is the Midi-Pyrénées region of France. The town Saint-Antoinin-Noble-Val was used for the Cate Blancett 2001 movie “Charlotte Gray.”
The Kadam family is traveling down a mountain road when the brakes fail but after a few scary moments, the van stops. The family is stranded but luckily they run into an attractive young French woman Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon). She helps the family tow the van into the town and she provides them with a simple feast of cheese, bread (she made herself) and tomatoes. The garage must send out for parts and while they wait, Papa passes down a rundown house with a courtyard directly across from the best restaurant in the town and perhaps the region.
The restaurant is the American definition of a high quality French restaurant–white thick tablecloth, well-dressed staff and a snooty woman in charge, Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren). Madame Mallory is a widow and very much against the family moving directly across from her restaurant to live and to set up an Indian restaurant. The two buildings are separated by 100-feet. The family may have been driving around in a junker of a van, but they have lots of money–enough to start a very large restaurant with none of them working another job (and we don’t actually see the younger kids attending school either). Money is not problem which is what makes this more like a fairytale.
Like a Hallmark movie, there will be romance, but all the problems will be resolved. Young Hassan will not only be a successful Indian cook, he will also read and master French cuisine with the help of Marguerite who just happens to be a sous chef at Madame Mallory’s restaurant. There will be some jealousy between Marguerite and Hassan but no one is really worried. The xenophobia, something that has troubled France in recent years, is easily resolved. Not impossible, but just improbable.
While you might gain some appreciation for classical French and Indian cuisine, the movie seems to consider the new wave of scientific cuisine experimentation with foam and drizzles and drops artistically arranged on small plates as being soulless.
No matter. If you want a well-calculated family friend foodie fare, this movie will fit the bill. I won’t say that the cinematography is exceptional since I disliked the many instances of solar flare and distracting horizontal rays of light. There are better examples of atmospheric golden light embracing the characters without those distractions. Yet the characters are all charming and Hallström doesn’t allow things to get too sappy. Asian ethnic men will be gratified that the Asian guys get the girls.
Afterward, go home and have some Indian food, even if it’s frozen food Trader Joe’s.