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Film review: The Hundred-Foot Journey ***

By Alexia Evripidou

The Hundred-Foot Journey is a shameless and unapologetic feel good movie, and so it should be. It is not short of clichés, but ones that actually work, leaving the audience feeling both happy and peckish with occasional teary eyes. The film journeys the viewer (if albeit ever so briefly,) to a place where all is well in this world. Yes, it is arguably heightened reality, but then which film isn’t? The lack of cynicism and impending doom is refreshing and beautifully portrayed through stunning scenery, interesting characters and the amusing sparring between the two older leads: Helen Mirren (Madam Mallory) and

Om Puri (Papa Kadam). Their constant quibbling and competitive nature is superbly entertaining; a job well done by two seasoned and exceptional actors.

The film opens in a Bombay market, exploding with colours, spices, food and the general hustle and bustle that is synonymous with scenes in India. A young boy edges his way to the front of the crowd, where a despondent fisherman is selling a single box of fresh sea urchins. The man, unimpressed by the rowdy women trying to buy his seafood, makes the decision to sell his fish to the boy because the boy “truly understands food”. The man recognised his talent when the boy stuck his finger in the raw sea urchin and tasted it (a frightful thought, but evidently one that left an impression on the old man). And so young Hassan grows up to be a passionate cook (played by Manish Dayal).

Fleeing across the world to escape the traumatic memories of loss, both in business and of a cherished family member, the food loving Kadam family turn their backs on Bombay and drift through Europe.

Settling in a picturesque village in France to start a new life, it was not an easy journey for the family. With the first stop being a rather wet and noisy Heathrow, London, the family had trouble adapting to the drizzly British weather, as well as “its soulless vegetables”. Food acts as the cornerstone of this movie, where all sub plots are driven from; food and relationships, both bitter and sweet; food and innovation; food and achievement and of course, food and love.

Jump to the rolling hills of food connoisseur France and the family ambitiously attempt to open an Indian restaurant one hundred foot from a Michelin starred French eatery. A recipe for disaster, as the French restaurant’s owner, Madam Mallory is intent on destroying the Kadam’s business before it even opens. And so the film comically and endearingly continues, following the trials and tribulations that come from making friends out of enemies and enemies out of friends.

The film then advances via a two pronged interwoven plot: the dispute between Mallory and Papa, and Hassan’s love of food and his competitor sous-chef Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon). The film almost borders on a song-less and friendly ‘foodie’ version of West Side Story. Hassan’s passions drive him to introduce piquant Indian food to French locals, master French cuisine (with a spicy twist), and become a top chef in a molecular gastronomic Parisian restaurant, facing the isolation that often comes with extreme success.

With a running time of 122 minutes, The Hundred-Foot Journey screens proudly in an almost Bollywood fashion, following the characters through their storylines but with out the musicals! The characters can be a little two dimensional and Mirren’s French accent is not convincing but these are minor issues. It also goes on a little longer than it needs to, but once again, if you leave cynicism at home and go along on this simple trip of food, hope and mild redemption, then it’s forgivable.

Rub in a dash of love, a splodge of delicious food and a whiff of nastiness and you have the ingredients of this Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey production. This unusual marriage of producers results in a winning, heartwarming production over all.

Unlike the film’s director Lasse Hallstrom’s acclaimed Chocolat, or Ang Lee’s Eat Drink Man Woman, the film doesn’t necessarily entice with food itself, but rather, uses the concept of food to support the characters’ achievement of goals: Michelin stars, love, recognition, continuing a loved one’s legacy. Food is simply the vehicle which the characters unite and dispute over. In fact it is the competitive one up-manship of The Hundred-Foot Journey that makes it delicious to watch. Irrespective of its Hollywood predictability, the film still invites you to sit back and gorge on its sweetness, and there’s always space for that pudding!

DIRECTED BY Lasse Hallström
STARRING Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Manish Dayal
UK 2014 122 min

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