Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Hundred-Foot Journey (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Hundred-Foot Journey

Auteur Lasse Hallstrom directs the affectionate "The Hundred-Foot Journey," a sugar-glazed culture clash film that turns the blazing tensions of professional cooking into a "It's a Small World" Disney trip and makes it all seem smooth and effortless.

The Indian Kadam family has relocated to France, after losing their restaurant and enduring the loss of their mother, who died in a fire.

Papa (the iconic actor Om Puri) is as solid as a rock and gets an idea to have a restaurant along the French countryside. He knows this is The Way. After all, his son Hassan (Manish Dayal) has numinous culinary  gifts. He can transcend the spirit world through his salivary glands and communicate to curried ghosts, both near and far.

Papa wanders about the grounds, discovering a big house with an open courtyard.

It's kismet.

But alas, the location is next door to Le Saule Pleureur, a haute cuisine  showplace, helmed by Madame Mallory, (Helen Mirren) an icy straight arrow who is a fusion of Cruella de Vil and Julia Child.

Mallory declares "war" on the new Romantic family, buying all the produce so the Kadams have little to work with and she stuffily complains about exuberant Indian music.

There is a silver lining in this cauliflower-shaped cloud however, as Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon) a vivacious sous-chef as adorable as  Ariel in "The Little Mermaid", takes a fetching interest in the gentle Hassan.

A battle of wills commence.

There is a commentary on anti-immigrant hostility when a nationalist chef Jean-Pierre (Clement Sibony) attempts to burn the restaurant down in one of the more interesting passages of the film.

While "The Hundred-Foot Journey borrows a bit from other Eastern-themed underdog films such as "Slumdog Millionaire" and "The Million Dollar Arm," the visual sweep within this film is a treat that works. And while "The Hundred-Foot Journey"  is, no doubt, pure Hollywood thru and thru, it is almost a period piece, given that it highlights and catalogs the magic of Steven Spielberg; he is the producer and his mark is clearly seen.

In showcasing golden sauces that pour over our eyes like light from an edible sun, its depiction of colorful curries that froth and swirl like calico candies of LSD, and last but not least, huge red peppers that pulse in an almost animated motion like the dismembered hearts in "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," this film illustrates the liveliness of food within its gustatory circus.

And although it is predictable, we still get a charge in seeing Hassan go to Paris, attempting to break down the molecular science of "quantum cuisine," to discover past spirits and meet with ghosts.

Yes, this is a Disney version of the hard nosed dog eat dog world as seen in "Chef," but it is so unapologetically sentimental (from the fireworks on cue, to Papa and daughter looking ridiculous but acting earnestly in a gold turban and a shimmering sari ) that you end up smiling in spite of all.

With all of the Franco-Indian fairy dust heaped in tablespoons as if left by "Aladdin", "Mary Poppins" and "Ratatouille", "The Hundred-Foot Journey" still creates a perfect food-fusion sleight of hand with hints of Bollywood spice in this blissful, yet cinematic B├ęchamel.

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