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Non-Review Review: The Hundred-Foot Journey

Guest review by Sinéad Finegan. You can find her at sineadfinegan.com.

Anyone who goes to see this foodie film to sample a little of the its finest dish – Helen Mirren – will not be disappointed. Humour, light-hearted fun, and a gently simmering Mirren are definitely on the menu; and who would complain?

One particularly memorable scene stands out: Mirren as Madame Mallory, the impeccably dressed proprietress of a Michelin-starred restaurant, stands before her assembled staff and silently holds up a single, rather flaccid-looking, asparagus which droops mournfully and looks an altogether unappetising specimen. Food should not be like a tired marriage, she informs us; no, the food in her restaurant must be a steamy affair. Which is rather a good assessment of the film itself: a fun, light-hearted and steamy foodie affair.


The story is an odd mix of real-world issues (racism and displacement) with the kind of unlikely-underdog-finds-culinary-stardom narrative not unfamiliar to anyone who has seen Disney’s Ratatouille. Despite this, the story gives enough credence to the aspects that set it apart (a rich portrayal of Indian culture and cuisine, and the reality of modern-day discrimination), to make it worthy in its own right. A lot of thought has been put into how to get the culinary tastes and scents across to the audience through beautiful images, and as someone not partial to either French or Indian cuisine, even I must admit the cooking sequences were mouth-watering. If you aren’t hungry going into the cinema, you certainly will be by the time you leave.


The Indian Kadam family, around which the story centres have been forced to relocate – initially and unsuccessfully to London, and then in a not universally-approved decision by the head of the family (played brilliantly by Om Puri), to an idyllic Southern French village, housing one of the country’s finest restaurants. Why exactly the family choose to establish their Indian restaurant in the South of France rather than in Indian-food-loving Great Britain, is not fully justified to my taste, but then again, an Indian restaurant fighting for survival against one of Helen Mirren’s fast food chains somewhere in the bleak London suburbs wouldn’t have quite the same charm as a contest between Indian cuisine and classic Michelin-starred French snobbery in the midst of picturesque Provence.


Whether the cultures clash or combine, the cuisine produced certainly seems to be the food of love. Not only is our young Indian chef Hassan drawn to the sweet but ruthlessly determined French sous-chef Marguerite, but animosity gives way to flirtation between Mdm. Mallory and Om Puri as proprietor of the Kadam family’s new multi-coloured, brightly lit “Maison Mumbai” (complete with booming music) located just a hundred feet from her door. “Is that a wedding party?” enquires a lavishly dressed diner of Mdm. Mallory. “A funeral,” she informs us, “The death of good taste.”


To give the film its dues, the racism it portrays is not restricted to name-calling and culture snobbery, and even for a light-hearted and enjoyable film, it goes a way towards showing the dangerous violent edge such prejudices can give way to. Perhaps it’s because of the very enjoyableness of the film that we only see these issues dealt with in terms of the professional kitchens – injuries suffered by the Hassan seem to be important only as they restrict his ability to cook, the perpetrator in turn suffers the punishment of being exiled from the kitchens of the restaurant he loves. Never is recourse sought for any of the serious misdemeanours, that we are aware of. This is despite the fact that the town mayor is a character who frequents both establishments; but he is a comical gastronomist whose main function is to guzzle all in sight, and convince the audience the food is indeed as good as it looks. He is an amusing pawn for both Mirren and Puri’s as they bribe him with an assemblage of delicious fayre.


Whilst I genuinely enjoyed the film, it was somewhat disappointing that so much time was lavished on the less interesting relationship between the younger characters, when the real interest and spark, and all the best laughs, were to be had watching the unlikely match between Mirren and Puri develop from open warfare, to secret flirtation.

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