Do you think you could believe that life’s entirely made up of coincidences? Well, there’s something to consider: THE HUNDRED FOOT JOURNEY-a film I really liked- is a drama with comedy that could make you buy it. The film starts off with a loving mother showing her son the arcane subtleties of Indian cooking. He is quite young and talented. She hands him examples to taste as well as smell, and gives him a well-worn suitcase with compartments that hold the exotic spices.
Sometime later, the restaurant– which their family owns in Mumbai, India– is attacked and set fire to. The protege escapes with his father and all four young siblings. But his mother perishes. By now the boy has grown to manhood-Hassan Kadam-played by Manish Dayal-and has become a remarkable chef. His father-called Papa Kadam-is played by Om Puri. He is determined to re-establish the restaurant in Europe, and sets out for England-only to find the climate there-both for his family and for the kind of plant-based food they need for cooking-doesn’t please them.
Now they all load up in a broken down van and take off for France. I don’t think that the father has any specific place in mind, but he’s a man with a vision. I’ve known men just like him: they go on with their lives– somehow sensing they will arrive at some place where they’ll thrive. His kids bewail his sense; yet when their old van’s brakes fail to brake and he must swerve off the road to avoid a deadly crash, the vision lives on.
Soon a young lady comes along and helps them get the van into a service place. Where are they? They don’t know. Well… It turns out to be Saint-Antonin- Noble-Val in the south of France; and while Papa is pacing as work is being done on the van, he wanders about this picturesque village, and spots a FOR SALE sign… Long story, short: he purchases the property and the whole Kadam clan starts pitching in to get the place ready to become a restaurant. Papa’s vision guides all action.
Interestingly, the lady who first helped them works as a sous-chef at the place that just happens to be one hundred feet across from where their new restaurant is. She is Marguerite-played by Charlotte Le Bon-and she and Hassan bond as food fans. Even though she sees that he’s her ‘competitor-opponent’, she agrees to give him culinary tomes on French cooking-that he devours with spellbinding zeal..
Certainly, the movie becomes a story of rivals, not just of restaurants but also of owners from those two restaurants: one-the French one–Le Saule Pleureur (in English, The Weeping Willow) is devotedly run by Madame Mallory-played by Helen Mirren-and the one-Restaurant Mumbai- led by Papa Kadam. You can surely imagine what happens when the one-starred Michelin restaurant- providing first class cuisine to a community of people with French palates- is faced with a gaudily lit aggressively-seeking- new-patrons-restaurant– that starts serving fine tasting fare.
One more coincidence comes about as follows: both the owners happen to be widow and widower. And though ruthless quarrels ensue between them, there is an incident that nudges them towards newfound respect. Both these actors are terrific. Papa Kadam has a strength and inner bearing that come across as genuine. Madame Mallory does a curmudgeonly great job playing a strict no-nonsense restaurateur. She never smiles, constantly rebukes; and I slowly speculated The Weeping WILLOW might be code for WIDOW: that her humorless demeanor was there to hide the mourning for her deceased husband.
Now along with Papa’s issue: that none keeps his newborn restaurant from its life, he wants his son, Hassan,,to show the world that he is a chef as fine as they come. Coincidence plays a role here when Hassan gets a chance to advance one hundred feet to chef for the Madame-thanks to preparatory tips from friend, Marguerite. And quite soon he gets to Paris where he is world-acclaimed. (“Hold on! Where we going?”) This Paris stint stretches a bit, yet it’s there to teach him where his allegiance is, and it helps bring his character to a maturity that draws his close ties in.
Both Hassan and Marguerite make a great joining of youth that doesn’t need nude scenes to express how they really feel. There is one scene where they are tasting and sharing spices, and it struck me as a new way of showing love. Sometimes a metaphor achieves a lot more effect than an “in your face” love scene.