Monday, August 11, 2014

The Hundred-Foot Journey: Review

The Hundred-Foot: Poster | A Constantly Racing Mind
"To cook, you must kill. You cook to make ghosts." ~ Mama Kadam
H okey or sappy are two words that one might choose to describe Steven Spielberg's and Oprah Winfrey's new film, "The Hundred-Foot Journey." Director Lasse Hallström ("What's Eating Gilbert Grape," "Chocolat," "The Cider House Rules") brings to the big screen an adaptation of Richard C. Morais's novel of the same name.  A look at the aspirations of a young man with a talent in the culinary arts pursue his goal at being the best, but in the process learn about who he really is and what makes him the happiest. Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal) is a young man, who with his family, escapes political turmoil in his home country. Papa Kadam (Om Puri), Hassan's father decides he, and his family will move to the south of France and start anew. Moving to the remote town of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val, they set up an Indian restaurant across the street from a Michelin starred restaurant ran by Madam Mallory played by the Queen herself, Helen Mirren. "The Hundred-Foot Journey" runs a little over two hours and is rated PG>

Hallström's film deals with a clash of cultures as the Kadam family movies in 100 feet from Mallory's French restaurant. Papa, guided by the spirit of the wife he lost in a fire caused by political vandals in their home country, feels that it is time that the French try some of his son's extraordinary Indian cuisine. The place they purchase is rundown, but with some good hard work and plenty of Indian flavored elbow grease, the family turns the place around and opens the doors to customers. Of course, there are some competitive hijinks, when Mallory gets a hold of the "Maison Mumbai's" menu for opening day. A spiteful Mallory runs to the market and buys all the fish (that was on the new menu) so the family has to go out of town to buy the ingredients fresh and causes them to have to rush their opening day meal.

The Hundred-Foot: Om Puri - Manish Dayal - Helen Mirren | A Constantly Racing Mind

Meanwhile, Hassan becomes enamored with Mallory's sous chef, Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon). At first, the two's flirtations are innocent, as they are both in the same field, but as the film progresses, and Hassan's talents in the kitchen become more obvious, the two begin to move into opposite corners. Early in their courtship, the two have a picnic in the woods, Marguerite is trying Hassan's versions of the five basic sauces, Béchamel, Velouté, Espagnole, Hollandaise, and Tomate. During this picnic, Marguerite tells Hassan that Madam Mallory can tell a great chef by having the chef prepare a simple omelette.  
"My mother didn't teach me how to cook.  She taught me how to taste."  ~ Hassan Kadam
Some cute and hilarious moments occur as the battle of chefs and restaurants kicks up, and Hallström cuts between the various members of the kitchen staff, as they are slicing and dicing, prepping and braising, cooking and baking as they fight for culinary victory.  Throughout the film, the director indulges in a very sensual version of food porn as the camera lingers lovingly from one dish to the next.  Not only that, the chemistry between the 31 year-old Manish Dayal and the 28 year-old Charlotte Le Bon begins to simmer.  

As the differences between the cultures begin to fade, and Hassan, in a joint venture between Papa and Mallory, wins another Michelin star for the French restaurant.  This is a joyous moment; after all, Mallory has only been waiting thirty years for her second star.  If you are not aware (just in case), The Michelin brothers, you know the company that makes tires and of Bib, the Michelin man fame, created a travel guide that rates restaurants and awards them stars.  What we learn from "The Hundred-Foot Journey" is that, "one star means the food is good.  Two stands for great.  "Three is only for the gods." 
"Food is memory." ~ Marguerite
"The Hundred-Foot Journey" is not a bad film, nor is it a great film.  If I did ratings as the Michelin Guide book does, then this film would be on Michelin starred film.  Hallström's directing and Linus Sandgren's cinematography, depicts the French countryside beautifully, and the town itself during the Bastille Day celebrations reminded me of the Disneyland castle.  Mirren, who is reported to speak French fluently, does a wonderful, but limited job playing the spiteful Madam Mallory.  Unfortunately, she isn't wicked enough to provide any real threat to the Kadam family.  A scene where Hassan and Mallory make an omelette together, although seductively filmed, requires quite a bit of suspension of belief.  As Hassan's hands are bandage due to burns, he and Mallory make the Omelette of the gods, he directs and she does the work.  After she tastes the omelette, she declares him her new chef and wants him to join her staff.  I get that some people have the culinary gift; however, I have watched enough of the food channel to know that cooking is an art that requires a certain level of skill and technique that a chef must have to create delicious food.  

The Hundred-Foot: Charlotte Le Bon | A Constantly Racing Mind

Manish Dayal is a handsome American actor of Indian descent that portrays the young Hassan with a certain blend of down to earthiness, and that of a dreamer and romantic.  However, as a chef, I didn't see the hustle and the frenetic rushing around that I see and hear about in highly regarded restaurants.  I didn't see any of what Anthony Bourdain calls, "a mix of unwavering order and nerve shattering chaos.”  Instead, the kitchen scenes were mostly fluid and beautifully choreographed like a ballet.  Charlotte Le Bon's Marguerite is smart, pretty, but somewhat naive.  But perhaps that is what this world needs is a bit more innocence.  
"Just because I ask for a discount doesn't mean I am poor.  It means I am thrifty." ~ Papa Kadam
The character I liked the most was Papa, played by renowned Indian actor Om Puri.  Puri has won many awards in own country and was awarded the Order of the British Empire by the Queen of England for his work in the British film Industry.  Obstinate and determined to bring to Europe the best that his culture has to offer.  Papa is both a superstitious and a pragmatic man, who deals with his family's expulsion from India, and setbacks in starting his restaurant with determination and hope.  As part of the diversity lesson that this film wants us to keep in mind, getting to know Om Puri is a delight and asks the question, can we see more actors that are Indian in Western films.  

The lessons that Hallström, and for that matter, Spielberg and Winfrey want to get across is that diversity is good, and should be welcomed, rather than feared and abhorred.  Yes, all of that is good, however, at some point in the film, I began to feel oppressed withe message.  Another theme that "The Hundred-Foot Journey" wants to instill is that no matter where you seek for happiness you will always find it in your own home, if you just look carefully.  I call this the "The Blue Bird" effect.  Based on the play by Maurice Maeterlinck and a 1940 film starring the late Shirley Temple Black, where taking a long and arduous journey that leads you back to your own home.  Most of the film is fantastical in a contrived sort of way.  The journey in this film is the meeting of cultures, mindsets, and the search for happiness that is clearly only 100 feet away.  If you believe in miracles then this film is for you.  That is probably why we need to see films like this from time to time, to get a moral and spiritual pick-me-up.  If anything at all, watching this film has inspired me to read the book.

Movie Data
Genre: Drama
Year:  2014
Staring: Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Manish Dayal, Charlotte Le Bon
Director: Lasse Hallström
Producer(s): Juliet Blake, Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey
Writer: Steven Knight, Richard C. Morais (novel)
Rating: PG
Running Time: 122 minutes
Release Date: 8/8/2014

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