The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014)
Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour .
Our content ratings: Violence 1; Language 1; Sex/Nudity 2.
Our star rating (0-5): 4.5
When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien.
Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God;[ for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
A hundred feet might make for a short journey in geographical terms, but in matters of culture and psychology, it is almost astronomical in Lasse Hallström’s warm tale of food—no, rather cuisine—and a clash of cultures. If you liked the director’s Chocolat, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, or What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, you will enjoy this tale, one that includes not one but two romances, interspersed with mouth-watering scenes of food preparation. Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey obviously liked the script by Academy Award-nominee Steven Knight, based on the novel of the same title by Richard C. Morais—they are listed as producers, along with Juliet Blake
The story begins in India where the Kadam family matriarch dies during an act of political violence that destroys the family restaurant. The bereaved patriarch of the family, simply called Papa (Om Puri), has his children pack up their possessions (which includes a chest of valuable spices). Leaving India, they wander for a time through Europe. When their old van breaks down in the hills above Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val, a small village in southern France, a young woman comes along on her bike and directs them to the mechanic, as well as offering them food. She is Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), a sous chef at the two-star Michelin restaurant Le Saule Pleureur.
Papa, coming across an abandoned restaurant just at the edge of the village, decides it would be the perfect place to start over. His oldest son Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal) had learned the basics of cooking Indian cuisine from his mother, and more importantly, possessed a keen palate rare among chefs. The only draw back to his plans to open what he calls “The Maison Mumbai” is that it is directly across the road—hence the title—from “Le Saule Pleureur.” To say that the proprietor Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren) is not pleased would be to understate the facts. There ensues a long tussle that in its intensity we might compare to that between the Montagues and Capulets, with Marguerite and Hassan, who of course become romantically involved, though played out subtly, caught in the middle.
How this dispute, which at times is taken to the person of the Mayor and even the stalls of merchants–Madame, snatching one of Papa’s menus, buys up all the seafood and other needed ingredients before Hassan can purchase them. Having already announced their opening day, the children save the day by fishing and foraging in the woods for the missing ingredients. Thus they are ready for the debut of their restaurant: they have even made a garish-looking wooden façade with electric lights, designed to look like an Indian structure, much to Madame’s dismay. At first no one comes, but in a humorous scene Papa’s offspring manage to entice passers-by to come and try the food. Eventually even the Mayor dines there, important in that when Madame Mallory appeals to him to close down her competitor for technical violations, he likes the food so much that he declines.
Declaring that they are at war and telling her head chef Jean-Pierre that he is a soldier in the battle, she unwittingly sets in motion a vicious and dangerous event. Her chef tells some of his xenophobic friends, who, like the vandals back in Mumbai, make a nighttime attack, torching the building. The Kadams manage to extinguish the blaze, but Hassan’s hands are burned so badly that they must be wrapped in thick bandages that hamper his cooking. To her credit, Madame is appalled by the act, promptly firing the chef. She spends an entire rainy day scrubbing away the nasty graffiti the vandals had painted on the stone wall in front of the restaurant.
During all this time Hassan remains on good terms with Marguerite, she even loaning him a stack of French cuisine cookbooks to supplement the faded ones that had been left in the old restaurant. He studies them and tries out the recipes. Marguerite tells him that Madame, during interviews of potential staff members, never eats more than the first bite because that is enough to tell her if the applicant has any talent. When he, with help because of his burnt hands, creates a fancy omelet, Marguerite’s face brightens as she tries the first bite, declaring that he has something that most chefs take years of training to achieve.
Papa, seeking vengeance on Madame, buys out all of the major ingredients that she needs for the night’s dinner. And of all nights, a Minister of the French government is coming to dine. Hassan cooks up a beautiful seafood dish, which he takes on the 100-foot journey from “The Maison Mumbai” to the “Le Saule Pleureur” so that she will not be mortified that night. She samples one bite, and–.
The above covers little more than the first half of the film. How reconciliation, and even romance, comes about, with Hassan developing into a master chef celebrated in Paris and throughout the country makes for a delightful fairytale-like film that leaves viewers feeling good about the world and themselves—and no doubt hungry after so much food so beautifully photographed. The picture postcard scenery of the countryside and the little village with the tall church steeple rising above the rooftops is also enjoyable.
People of faith will appreciate the theme of reconciliation across cultural and ethnic boundaries—and it’s great that this time the two lovers bridging “the dividing wall of hostility” do not wind up as twin suicides. Papa lives by the world’s accepted “get even” rules, but Hassan, by offering his seafood dish to Madame, seeks a higher way, one found in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. It is the only way, even when at first it is rejected, that will reduce what has become a hundred mile journey between hostile neighbors to zero.