“It was sweet and spicy,” commented my friend Glenys astutely as the screen credits began to roll. I’d just seen The Hundred Foot Journey with three good friends. The film tells the story of competing restaurants across the street from one another in southern France. One is owned by a French Michelin star winning restaurateur played by Helen Mirrin and the other by a family of recent immigrants from Mumbai India.
The story is sweet. It’s a fairy tale, without too much character depth but some sweet romance and a sweet ending. And the food scenes! Sweet! All those luscious fruits and vibrantly coloured vegetables, creamy cheeses, crusty baguettes and perfectly prepared meats. Watching people taste the food is a sensual sweet experience too. There’s a scene where Helen Mirrin tastes an omelette prepared by her Indian protegé and her expression of exquisite nearly orgasmic appreciation is worth the price of admission alone. Also sweet are the scenic views of the southern French countryside- silvery streams, hills bathed in golden light, star-studded skies and leafy woodlands.
There is spice as well! The movie starts with some intense conflict. There’s a devastating fire in the Indian family’s restaurant. The brakes on their car stop working nearly causing a tragic accident. During the first half of the movie Helen Mirrin and the patriarch of the Indian family played by Om Puri pitch a back and forth battle trying to shut one other’s restaurants down. Their duel is symbolized at one point by a lengthy montage of shiny knives expertly chopping. It’s a juxtaposition of French and Indian cooking ingredients being sliced and diced and dissected at such breakneck speed it leaves you breathless. Further spicy conflict is provided by the young Indian son Hassan’s inner turmoil about what he really wants in life and the rivalry between Hassan and a lovely French sous chef . Despite their professional jealousy they are personally passionate about each other.
For me the story was also a little sad. The mother of the Indian family dies right at the beginning of the movie. However it is made clear throughout the film that her influence, advice and the lessons she has taught her family live on. At the end of the movie her son finally makes sense of his life when he returns to his family home to cook a dish his mother taught him to make, with the spices she left behind. He is also returning to the values of love and family loyalty she instilled in him.
I’ve really been missing my mother recently. Things happen and I can’t quite make sense of them and I wish I could talk to her about them. I know her love is still with me but I wish I had her ear and voice here too. The important role of the gone but not forgotten mother in the movie reminded me of that and made me cry. The Hundred Foot Journey isn’t a film masterpiece but it did provide a sweet, spicy and for me sadly sentimental evening of entertainment that I was glad to share with good friends.
Other posts about French films……