Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Hundred-Foot Journey

2014, Lasse Hallström (What's Eating Gilbert Grape, The Shipping News) -- download

I love food movies, movies about food, about people who make food, about people who love eating good food. I am currently watching The Mind of a Chef on Netflix despite being inundated with food I cannot consume, fish and all its brethren. But I love the excitement of the show. I love watching cooking shows, whether I am going to ever attempt their recipes or not. Something about being the observer of good food enjoyed is palatable to me.

Now, food movies are often intertwined with the ideals of familial love, as if the two cannot be separated in the minds of story tellers. Think Big Night and the relationship between the brothers. Think Eat Man Drink Woman and the relationship between the father & daughters (which was also well done in the English / Spanish language remake Tortilla Soup) and of course, more recently, the rekindled relationships in Chef.

The Hundred-Foot Journey draws from the same broth. A family is forced from India because of politics; they are forced out of England because of the climate and housing. They end up stuck in a small village in France due to pure chance, circumstance or divine intervention. This is the ultra picturesque village that happens to have a 3 star restaurant run by snobby, critical, officious Madame Mallory, played by a very strained looking Helen Mirren. For at least an hour, I was distracted by the fact that lovely Ms. Mirren looked like she had work done. She just looked different. And she was not very convincing as a french matron, but the movie is so earnest in everything it portrays, I forgave her. Of both.

The Kadam family decides to stay in the village and take over "the other restaurant" and offer Indian food to the people. I never really understood how the village could maintain one extremely high end resto, but maybe I don't understand the demographics of rural France. How it was going to handle another, especially an "ethnic" one, the movie just blissfully ignores. This is a cheerful movie about perseverance and a love of food. This was not about tempered drama, but unabashed romanticism, often to the point of saccharine, and even occasionally entirely over the ledge. Of course the family gets the restaurant up and running, of course it becomes a success and of course, it breeds love between Romeo and Juliet.

But the movie doesn't stop there, it just keeps on going. Once the rift between the families is mended and evil Madame Mallory becomes a friendly matron, the movie tells a story of Michelin stars, celebrity chefs and being true to your love of food. To be honest, it was losing me at about this time, as the gentle son gets a haircut and an artful shaved scrub and a fondness for martinis in Paris. The movie was overly long and familiar. I like familiar in food movies, but sometimes the big hammer the movie used knocked me senseless.

The food is delectable, giving us views to both the incredibly refined recipes of the French, subtle flavours and ingredients with a precise attention to detail, and the exuberant cooking of the Indian family, based on generations of testing, tasting and serving. They believe that food should always be flavourful and subtlety is just a waste of time. Make it bold! In the third (maybe fourth or fifth, realistically) act we even get a commentary on new cuisine with its frozen this and extracts of that, while the kitchen staff just eats the food they bring with them from home, full of flavour and comfort.

I didn't love the movie, I didn't loathe it. Many times I was rolling my eyes and the heavy handed melodrama but that is Hallström. There were scenes and elements I did love, such as the wars between Madame Mallory and Father Kadam over ingredients. And in the end, I really just felt a craving for Indian food and a desire to thumb through my copy of Larousse Gastronomique.