Putting Guardians behind me as quickly as possible, let’s look at something completely different: The Hundred-Foot Journey, directed by Lasse Hallstrom. The critics actually liked Guardians a lot more than Journey, which just leaves me utterly dumfounded. The Hundred-Foot Journey is no masterpiece, or even one of Hallstrom’s better films (e.g. Chocolat, My Life as a Dog, The Cider House Rules, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape). Nor is the screenplay one of Steven Knight’s better efforts (e.g. Locke, Dirty Pretty Things, Eastern Promises). But compared to Guardians, Journey is a priceless work of art. I’m left wondering whether what I look for in a film is not only very different from what the masses are looking for – it’s also very different from what the critics are looking for.
However, an interesting thing to note is that I watched The Hundred-Foot Journey at a theatre in Winnipeg a month after its release and the theatre was almost sold-out on a Tuesday evening. I suspect Journey will still be playing here long after Guardians has disappeared. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (admittedly a better film than Journey) played in Winnipeg for more than six months. There’s a core group of Winnipeg film fans with a deep appreciation for these kinds of films (and films like The Way, which also played here for a number of months).
But I digress. The Hundred-Foot Journey tells the tale of Hassan Kadam (played by Manish Dayal), a young cook whose mother was killed during an act of political violence in India. Fleeing to Europe, Hassan’s father (played by Om Puri) decides to open an Indian restaurant in a small French village, right across the street from a high-class French restaurant owned and operated by Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren). Madame Mallory is not impressed. While she goes to war with Hassan’s father, Hassan falls in love with her sous chef, Marguerite (Charlotte le Bon), who teaches him how to cook French-style. The war heats up, the romance cools down, and Hassan’s life takes some predictable, and also unbelievable, turns.
The Hundred-Foot Journey moves at a slow quiet pace, inviting viewers to digest the meal properly and enjoy the stunning cinematography, the beautiful score and the acting of Mirren and Puri. Even so, the romance feels rushed (with the acting of the young actors not matching that of the veterans) and the story doesn’t always seem to know which pieces of the drama it should focus on (I preferred the story of Madame Mallory and Papa Kadam, and the village dynamics, more than the story of Hassan, which seemed to be the focus). Nevertheless, I found the scattering of profound observations about conflict, loneliness and life’s priorities more than sufficient to provide, in combination with the film’s other attributes, a thoroughly entertaining film-watching experience.
The Hundred-Foot Journey gets ***+. My mug is up.