Hundred-Foot Journey, The

Lasse Hallstrom, who directed the charming 2000 film “Chocolat,” has returned to the world of culinary creativity — adding a healthy soupcon of cultural conflict and blending it all into a very satisfying cinematic stew.

In “The Hundred-Foot Journey,” we are introduced to the warm and loving Kadam family who, due to violent politics in their home of Mumbai, India, decide to emigrate to Europe — hoping to re-launch the Indian restaurant, after their original one was completely destroyed.

The Kadams end up in a scenic village in the South of France where the family’s patriarch, Papa Kadam (played to perfection by veteran Indian actor Om Puri), buys a ramshackle building across the street from an elegant outpost of French haute cuisine: Le Saule Pleureur, which carries a prestigious one-star rating from the Michelin guide.

Overseeing Le Saule Pleurer, which in English would be “the Weeping Willow,” is the extremely imperious Madame Mallory, portrayed by Helen Mirren with very Gallic twist on a regal role. The Oscar winner does not simply slap a French accent on her Elizabeth II from “The Queen,” but convincingly conjures up a character we easily believe has devoted her entire life to running one of the finest restaurants in France.

Mirren’s Madame Mallory unctuously oozes her dedication to perfection from every pore — and it’s truly delicious to watch her work her magic up on the screen.

Of course, Madame is incensed when these Indian interlopers dare to open what she considers a garish, over-spiced, inappropriate dining establishment directly across the lane from her dining mecca — a culinary homage to classic French cooking. The 100 feet between the restaurants ironically represents a ocean’s width of cultural differences.

Key to this story is the role of young Hassan Kadam, Papa’s son and heir to his dedication to the preparation of proper Indian cuisine. Played with nicely understated charm by Manish Dayal, Hassan is not-so-secretly desirous of learning all he can about fine French cooking. A flirtation with Madame Mallory’s sous chef Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon) naturally, and a bit too predictably, leads to an eventual romance. But first Marguerite’s tips and library of classic French cookbooks aid Hassan in mastering the skills to take him to the top of the world of fine chefs — no matter the cuisine.

While the ultimate outcome, with the lessons of acceptance and even love that are achieved in this film, is highly predictable, I really didn’t care. Just watching the verbal sparring and lovely acting delivered by Mirren and Puri — who are superb together — as well as Dayal and Le Bon makes it all worthwhile.

“The Hundred Foot Journey,” based on Richard C. Morais’ novel, is quite enchanting. It does fall down a bit in its third act, and the scenes of Hassan’s interlude in Paris could have been greatly shortened in the editing suite, but overall this is a solid, intelligent movie about the joys of expanding our horizons — in all directions.

-BILL ZWECKER, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES

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