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The Hundred-Foot Journey

February 25, 2019

The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014)
Director: Lasse Hallström
Actors: Manish Dayal, Om Puri, Helen Mirren

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Synopsis: An Indian family flee political violence in Mumbai to start a new life in Europe. They pitch up in a small, provincial community in the French Pyrénées, and proceed to open up a traditional Indian restaurant, much to the chagrin of the posh French restaurant the eponymous ‘100 feet’ across the road from them.

Review: There’s an in-built contradiction between this film’s genuine attempt to position itself as an ode to cultural understanding, while also being a commercially twee depiction of that story. I’m inclined to cut the film some slack as it’s clearly a bit of feelgood fare, so its story of an ‘exotic’ Indian family spicing up (literally) the culinary world of an enclosed, provincial French community isn’t intended to patronise, but merely to offer some warm escapism. It’s almost like the culinary variant of Lasse Hallström’s uncannily similar, Chocolat (2000), which was equally difficult to begrudge.

There’s even some merit in this film’s microcosmic thesis that the best way for entrenched communities to combine is not just through mere tolerance, but in a mutually beneficial cross-pollination of cultures. This finds its strongest representation in Indian chef, Hassan, subtly reconfiguring the prestigious French restaurant he joins with a touch of the Indian, to elevate it to two Michelin star status.

More problematic is the bizarre decision to neuter the French subject matter by having characters – even unapologetic French ones – speak in ‘Allo ‘Allo English for the majority of the running time. Depicting the Indian characters having to really struggle with learning the French language of their new community might have imprinted the theme of cultural dislocation that much more. Also, the almost impossibly idealised south of France location and the gorgeous, model-like presence of Charlotte Le Bon ready to become the romantic foil of the Indian hero, does rupture the suspension of disbelief of even this most knowingly populist of fare. (February 2019)

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