The film is The Hundred-Foot Journey. In a wave of political violence in India, the Kadam family are among those who lose out, badly. Their restaurant is burned down and the mother killed. They flee. They are given political asylum in the UK and set about starting again in London. Living in the Heathrow flight path and the British weather are probably just two of many reasons the patriarch of the family decides they should go to mainland Europe. Where exactly is left open.
Somewhere in France, near the village of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val, the brakes on their ancient vehicle stop working. and after a near miss on the road, they get help in a garage and hospitality from one of the locals – Marguerite. She is a sous-chef in Madame Mallory’s acclaimed haute cuisine establishment.
In the village is a run down, abandoned, former restaurant. The patriarch sees this as a sign. The family are going to stay and open a new family restaurant there.
It is across the street – a hundred feet away – from Madame Mallory’s place.
Cue competitive culinary action, and love interest and conflict. The rivalry is serious, and soon gets out of control.
Helen Mirren plays the part of Madame Mallory. She does not have a good French accent, but once you get over that it is another truly professional performance. The patriarch is played by Om Puri and he is certainly not outshone by Mirren’s star. The other two main actors – Manish Dayal (as the chef who has the magic ingredient to make it to the top of the profession) and Charlotte Le Bon (as Marguerite) – deliver good, solid performances.
It’s a nice film – not a great film – which sometimes comes dangerously close to being overly sugary and sentimental. And while the moments of real world violence and chaos probably help to rescue it, the food porn means you may forget the ‘happy ever after’ style of the story. Indeed, the food and the cooking thereof ranks as another star performer. There are the market scenes, the kitchen scenes, the restaurant scenes, the cafe scenes, the woodland scenes, the cookery book scenes, and so on and so on. There’s buying, preparation, cooking, presenting, serving, tasting, and scoring of food. There are the ever present Indian spices that you can almost smell across the screen. It all looks amazing. (I should confess I prefer the Indian food on offer.) I was hungry afterwards.
The plot is instantly forgettable. The cinematography is fine, apart from the main overhead setting showing the two restaurants, across the road from one another. The backdrop stinks of artificial effects and makes it look almost as if this is a huge stage play. OK, a slight exaggeration. But it does stand out as a really crappy piece of filming.
This is a film that is worth watching – once – but do not make a special journey to the cinema for it. If there’s nothing else on, by all means, go for it. Otherwise, wait for it to appear on your TV screen.