'The Hundred-Foot Journey' a joyous cinematic experience

Rating

4 Stars4/5

Bruce Kirkland, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:14 PM ET

Pack a gourmet snack for eating in or arrange dinner reservations for your post-movie outing: The Hundred-Foot Journey is not only a charming romantic comedy about food, culture and race, it is also guaranteed to whet your appetite.

That is because the on-screen cuisine looks so delicious, whether it is the upscale French fare or the masala-mad Indian dishes served up at the Maison Mumbai sitting 100 feet across the street. When hybrid dishes start developing in that chasm between the extremes, things get even more appealing. Example: The French-style omelette with its Indian spices is a thing of simple beauty, but I will not spoil the story by explaining why this is a pivotal point. Just be prepared to drool.

Directed by Swedish-born Lasse Hallstrom, and set almost entirely in France, The Hundred-Foot Journey plays mostly in English. That is one of the oddities of international cinema, especially because the cast is a melting pot of English, American, Indian, Canadian and French actors. The entire enterprise is a Hollywood adventure, with Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey among the producers.

You can forget realism — it is not needed. The Hundred-Foot Journey is a dreamy modern fairytale about how life should be, and not about how harsh it really is. Based on the 2010 novel by American author Richard C. Morais and adapted to the screen by Englishman Steven Knight, this is a chronicle of how a tiny village in the Tarn-et-Garonne region of southern French becomes a battleground for cuisine and romance.

Village life is placid and ‘normal’ until the immigrant Kadam family led by Om Puri shows up, plunks down cash and opens their own restaurant. The Maison Mumbai is now competing with the formal and fussy French establishment run by a surly French autocrat, Madame Mallory. She is played by Oscar-winner Helen Mirren. There is even an inside joke about her looking imperious “like the queen!” That, apparently, was a sly ad-lib by Puri.

The battle is about culture, taste, tradition, cultural heritage and even music, with Mirren’s establishment playing quiet European classical while the Maison Mumbai bursts with a boisterous Bollywood-style mashup. The whole movie is a souffle, as Mirren has said aloud off-screen. Yet it also deals with serious issues, and does so earnestly, beneath the giddy antics of the restaurant war.

The beauty of the movie is that the romantic comedy bits work on multiple levels, too. The young couple at the heart of the romance is made up of Mirren’s French sous-chef (played by delightful Montreal actress Charlotte Le Bon) and Puri’s son (played by a talented Indo-American actor, Manish Dayal). But there are other romantic surprises in store that remind us that love is not just for the young.

Above all is Helen Mirren. Her performance is nothing short of wonderful as she manipulates language — some French, mostly English with a French accent — and then plays just as brilliantly with no words at all. When she tastes that omelette, Mirren shows what depths of communication that body posture and subtle facial movements can do to express the deepest emotions.

And it makes us hungry for more of the sensual pleasures of life, including sublime cuisine.

Twitter: @Bruce_Kirkland

bruce.kirkland@sunmedia.ca


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