Last week, when I stopped by my favorite DVD rental store to rent one of the Best Picture nominated films, I found The Theory of Everything, and received a recommendation. I met the owner of the store and chatted, naturally, about movies. I explained I had come in the week before to pick up Theory, but with the cold, wintry weather, that movie, along with many others, was rented out. But then, I told the owner, that led me to discovering the delightful movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
We chatted about that film and his face lit up as we shared favorite scenes. He told me if I enjoyed that movie, he had another one to recommend. He disappeared and returned with The Hundred Foot Journey, promising if I loved Marigold Hotel, I would love this one too….or he would refund my rental fee. Well, I was curious, and grateful for the suggestion, and the title had my word for the year in it. How could I go wrong? Tonight, I had the opportunity to find out if the film was a winner for me.
The Hundred Foot Journey stars Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Manish Dayal, and Charlotte La Bon. It was directed by Lasse Halstrom and is based on the novel of the same name by Richard C. Morais. This comedy drama, which released in theaters August 8, 2014, has a PG rating for brief violence and a run time of 2 hours and 2 minutes.
The Kadam family, owners of a successful restaurant in India, flee the country after political violence breaks out, destroying their business and claiming the life of the mother. The patriarch, affectionately called Papa (Puri), loads his children into his old vehicle and heads into Europe, looking for a new place to settle and open an Indian restaurant. His son, Hassan (Dayal) is the cook of the family, a gifted young man who has learned the culinary arts from his mother. When the car breaks down in the quaint French village of Saint Antonin, Papa feels it’s a sign from his deceased wife. They are assisted into the village by a pretty young woman, Marguerite (La Bon), who feeds them well with fresh homemade delicacies. Pushing their car through town, Papa spies an abandoned restaurant for sale, and makes an offer on it, even though it is across the street, exactly 100 feet, from the village’s classy French restaurant, the La Saule Pleureur, a one star Michelin establishment run by Madame Mallory (Mirren).
As the Kadam family cleans up their new restaurant, the Maison Mumbai, Madame Mallory, horrified to have competition, begins plotting their ruin. Meanwhile, Hassan discovers that Marguerite is a sous chef at the La Saule Pleureur and they enter into a friendship. Hassan discovers old French cookbooks in the kitchen and asks his new friend many questions about French cuisine. There is a competitive edge between them, and attraction as well. As the opening night for the new Indian restaurant approaches, the dislike between Papa and Madame Mallory moves into all out war. It is a battle of wills and a clash of cultures and cuisine. The French inhabitants of the village are slow to embrace the Kadam’s restaurant, but once a few customers trickle in, word spreads about the marvelous fare. While he prepares Indian cuisine by day, Hassan practices his French cooking at night, impressing Marguerite with how quickly he learns. She recognizes the amazing gift that he has, and tells him that Madame Mallory can tell the quality and potential of an aspiring chef by having him or her prepare an omelet, and sampling just one bite.
All is going well with both restaurants, but hostility simmers beneath the surface. One of Madame’s chefs in training starts a fire in the Maison Mumbai late one evening. Hassan frantically fights the flames. The fire is extinguished however Hassan’s hands are burned in the process. That act of violence, so like the tragedy back in India, brings a shift in attitude within Madame Mallory. She fires her chef, and taking a bucket of water and soap, scrubs the outer wall of the Kadam’s restaurant, removing racial slurs written there. That act of peace halts the war between the two eating establishments. Hassan, encouraged by the tenderness he sees in Madame, asks if he can prepare her an omelet.
Because of his injured hands, Madame Mallory assists in the kitchen, following Hassan’s recipe and instructions, which includes the addition of spices from India. When she sits to take a bite of the creation, Hassan hovers nearby, awaiting her verdict. Savoring the bite she took, Madame tells Hassan, in a voice choked with emotion, “You have it.” She offers him a place in her kitchen. It is difficult at first for Papa to let his son go, even though he will only be 100 feet away. But he and Madame both know Hassan has a gift, a gift the world needs to experience. And indeed, the village and then the world begins to take notice of Madame’s new chef. Hassan’s rise in the culinary world puts a strain on his relationship with Marguerite, however both are becoming fine chefs. It is Hassan’s skill that brings another Michelin star to the La Saule Pleureur. And then the world calls to him in earnest, and it is off to Paris he goes, becoming the chef in a restaurant where innovation is key. There he garners much praise and recognition, but discovers he has disconnected from his heart. Eating a simple but flavorful meal with a co-worker, prepared by the man’s wife over an open fire in the courtyard, awakens Hassan’s heart and emotions again, leading him home.
The DVD rental store owner was right. I loved this movie. I’m so glad for his recommendation for here was another movie that I had not heard of and missed somehow. I smiled so much during the film. I loved watching the trips to the market for the freshest of ingredients, loved watching the choreography of chefs skillfully creating in the kitchen. It was good I had a great dinner earlier, or I would have become hungry watching as amazing meals were prepared. A longing for the Webb City Farmers Market did arise and I’m glad it is almost time for the open air market to begin again. I love watching people cook….I’m not much of a cook myself. Perhaps a cooking class is in my near future. It was inspiring watching the characters follow the passions of their hearts, while honing their skills.
Most of all, this was a story about how people from different cultures, different ways of life, perceive each other and learn to change those perceptions. It became a love story as Papa and Madame Mallory “almost” became romantic, and Hassan and Marguerite moved through their competitiveness to become partners in business and in life. Because of the way I view the world and the unseen realms, and have ongoing conversations with the Divine, I loved that Papa had conversations throughout the film with his deceased wife. He listened to what she had to say. My favorite saying that came out of one of those conversations was, “Maybe breaks break for a reason.” The flow of life took the Kadam family to this little village in France, which was exactly where they needed to go…for themselves…and for Madame Mallory and Marguerite. How did they all know that? Because that’s where the car broke down.
How do I know I was supposed to watch this movie? It flowed into my life, as easily and surely as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel did. I learned so much from watching both. I enjoyed both. Sometimes the most difficult journeys are not the longest ones, such as the 100 feet between restaurants, or the shift between rejection and acceptance or moving from the head into the heart. I’ll be taking The Hundred Foot Journey back to the DVD store tomorrow. If I see the owner, I’ll thank him. And I won’t be requesting a refund.