The Hundred-Foot Journey is Heavenly Foodie Fodder

Casey St. Charnez - August 13, 2014

“That movie should have been in Smell-o-Vision”

“That movie should have been in Smell-o-Vision,” Lisa said, as we were exiting the Regal DeVargas 6. We had just seen The Hundred-Foot Journey, a warm and friendly comedy-drama about two rival restaurants in rural France.

She was so right. We were so hungry afterwards. All we’d had that day was half a sesame bagel each from Mangiamo Pronto, and by the time we left the theater, we were ready to eat a cow. Each. And I’m vegetarian.

Based on the 2008 novel by Richard C. Morais (available at the Santa Fe Public Library), this Steven Spielberg-Oprah Winfrey production is something of a fairy-tale.

It starts in Mumbai, where the Kadam family is forced to abandon their homespun bistro when it—and its matriarch—are destroyed in a riot. They emigrate to London, but it’s too cold for these natives of the Indian subcontinent, and while driving through the South of France (I never understand why it’s not called Southern France) their van breaks down and they’re stranded in a village, Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val, where there is only one eatery.

That would be La Saule Pleureur (The Weeping Willow), an austere bastion of classic French cuisine, a Michelin star winner run militaristically by Mme. Mallory (Helen Mirren), as crusty as a brioche. She does not take it well when the Kadams decide to open Maison Mumbai right across the road from her…one hundred feet from door to door.

She declares war. That leads to détente, then to peace, then even to love, with two generations finding new romance. The renowned Indian actor Om Puri, top-billed, is the dad, while handsome Manish Dayal is the family’s talented cook, himself falling for winsome sous chef Charlotte le Bon across the street. There are a lot of fireworks, often literal, as the factions battle, reconcile, and move on.

All this was directed by Lasse Hallstrom, the Swedish director of My Life as a Dog, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, The Cider House Rules, and especially Chocolat, which his latest effort strongly resembles in its tone of romantic whimsy. Nothing in it could happen in real life, and while all its surprises are pleasantly predictable, it’s so incredibly satisfying that at the end, the audience applauded. Not that the movie could hear them, of course, but this piece of heavy-duty foodie porn seemed to demand an appreciative response.

Like Like Water for Chocolate, Babette’s Feast, Henry Jaglom’s Eating, or even Ratatouille, this gourmet feast for the eyes is multi-sensory. Even the sea urchins looked good to me. The colors, the spices, the sauces, the plated presentations, are appetizing to the point of salivation.

The film bears all the earmarks of a deliberately mid-Atlantic audience-pleaser. Helen Mirren? Check (she always wanted to play a French character). Cross-marketed to both older people and younger people? Check. Multi-lingual but basically in English? Check. Spielberg/Winfrey feel-good with a European sensibility? Check. Charms, laughs, and emotional byplay? Check, check, check.

It’s quite manipulative, but who cares? Somehow it all works. A Best Picture nomination seems written in the stars. Or the soup. 

May I add that it would behoove one to hit the concession stand before the movie, for popcorn, nachos, or better yet, the hot roasted nuts they’re newly offering.

By the way, the last notation in the end credits suggests that one go have a look at The Web site covers food-related issues as they relate to their culture, and the film-specific page even boasts a recipe for the Kadam variation on Boeuf Bourguignon.

It’s mouth-watering. Even to an herbivore like me.

Interview with the creators of the "Hundred Foot Journey"