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Indian Cooking Seeks A Maison In The Hundred-Foot Journey
The Hundred-Foot Journey takes a look at a French restaurant that gets some unexpected competition. Helen Mirren stars as Madame Mallory, the widowed owner of a fine dining restaurant in a small French town. She takes pride in the one star rating she has earned in the famed Michelin restaurant guide. She becomes quite displeased, however, when a family of Indian emigres opens an establishment that specializes in Indian cuisine called Maison Mumbai directly across the road from her. A Mr. Kadam (Om Puri) owns Maison Mumbai, and his son Hassan (Manish Dayal) is its head chef. The Kadam family settled in France when their vehicle lost its braking power and ran off the road. A young lady named Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon) gives them a temporary place to stay, and discovers that she and Hassan share a passion for fine food and cooking before they move to their home inside the restaurant.
As soon as they open for business, Madame Mallory starts to complain, both to the Kadam family as well as to the town's mayor. First, she complains about the volume of the Indian music. Next, she makes sure that she purchases all of the food the Kadams would themselves purchase. While Mr. Kadam might meet Madame Mallory's demand about the music, he shows he can corner the market just as well as she can. Things go too far when one of Mallory's staff conspires with a couple of others to burn down Maison Mumbai on Bastille Day, and they injure Hassan in the process. Not only does Mallory fire that person, but she works with Mr. Kadam to give Hassan a more formal education than the one the young man received from his late mother. As a result, Hassan not only becomes a recognized chef, but the restaurant gets its second Michelin star, which proclaims Le Saule Pleureur a more prestigious restaurant. This makes Hassan an in demand chef, and he takes a job offer in Paris. However, his thoughts soon turn to the small town again, and to Marguerite.
The Hundred-Foot Journey, which is based on a book by Richard C. Morais, is a delightful look at a culture clash that becomes a cultural learning experience. This is not the first movie about French food and culture clashes that Swedish director Lasse Hallstrom has directed. In 2000, he directed Chocolat, a movie about a chocolate maker in a small French town who encounters problems with the town's devoutly Catholic mayor (also called a comte) during Lent. Madame Mallory, like the comte, embraces tradition, and simply cannot see why anyone would consider Indian food when she has an establishment that has a rare recognition for restaurants in Europe. Papa Kadam shows that he knows the restaurant business, and knows that Hassam is his star talent. Later, an injured Hassan shows Madame Mallory what he has learned, and puts his skill to use for all of them. The scenario by Steven Knight captures the nature of small town living and fine dining, while Hallstrom embraces the food, the characters, and the positive aspects of different cultures.
Mirren shows Madame Mallory's pride and sadness in her performance. She owns a place of distinction, yet she goes home alone at the end of the evening. She'd already outlasted one competitor, and doesn't think that Maison Mumbai has anything of culinary value to offer. When she learns her tricks to break Masion Mumbai won't work, she discovers that their way of cooking has its values. When Hassan comes to work for Mallory, her customers take to the way he prepares meals. She even starts to take a liking to Mr. Kadam. Puri is fun as Papa Kadam, a man who lost his old restaurant (and his wife) to political unrest, but is determined to get back into the restaurant business. France gives him and his family the ideal opportunity to start anew, and political unrest in France pales in comparison to what the family faced before. Papa admires Madame Mallory and her business, and soon starts to see her as something other than a business rival. Dayan is very good as Hassan, who comes to love his new residence, and Le Bon is sweet as Marguerite, who slowly realizes her life has changed when she welcomes Hassan and his family.
An old saying reminds people that some of the best journeys require little travel. The Kadams may have tried several European stops, but they decide to reopen their restaurant in a place that has grown used to a different style of cuisine. Madame Mallory may have her reservations, but The Hundred-Foot Journey shows new experiences can unfold in a place not far from one's door.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give The Hundred-Foot Journey three stars. Bon appetit!