Monday, August 11, 2014

The Hundred Foot Journey [2014]

MPAA (PG)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  Chicago Tribune (2 Stars) (2 Stars)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune/Variety (J. Chang) review (C. Lemire) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

The Hundred Foot Journey [2014] (directed by Lasse Hallström, screenplay by Steven Knight, based on the novel by Richard C. Morais [IMDb]) is a lovely, feel-good movie about the blessings that come with ethnic / cultural diversity.  It is a film that cheerfully proclaims to all who would listen that we do "complete each other" (the writers of Jerry Maguire [1996] didn't invent that line.  That sentiment is expressed in pretty much all the universal religions and philosophies including Judeo-Christianity c.f. Gen 1:26-31, 1 Cor 12:12-26, Rom 5:3-8, Col 1:24, Rev 7:9-14, Second Vatican Council, Declaration on Non-Christian Religions "Nostra Aetate" [1965]).

Alas, the story begins, sadly enough, in the still largely sectarian/divided/fallen world of today (Yes, the world's religions and philosophies many proclaim a "Brotherhood of Man" but often enough THEIR (or our...) particular "Brotherhood..."): A good humored/innocuous Muslim family from Mumbai, India finds itself driven out of their home/business after these are burned down in a sectarian riot. 

Where do they go?  Widowed as a result of the anti-Muslim pogrom, Papa (played with magnificent comic timing by Om Puri) takes the family to England first.  But "the karma's" just not right ;-).  Explaining as they're at the border crossing at the famous Chunnel between England and France why they are leaving England for France, eldest son and culinary prodigy Hassan (played by Mashan Dayan) explains to a bemused (presumably) English border official that the vegetables in England "just don't have life."  His headscarf-wearing late-teenage sister Mahira (played again magnificently by Farzana Dua Elahe) explains to another (presumably) French border official that, no, she's not being taken across the border "against her will" for an "arranged marriage" explaining "Believe me, nothing in our family is particularly well arranged" ;-)

And so it is, this moderately sized Muslim family -- widowed Papa and his 5 children ranging in age from early 20s to 8-10 (with Mother guiding them from above) -- originally from Mumbai now all packed into a rickety European minivan, cross into France from England in search of a place to set down roots.  And they literally crash into a small provincial French town in the foothills of the Alps. 

There they find a place at the edge of town start a restaurant.  But alas, it's across the street from ANOTHER, and very well respected French restaurant run by (also a widow) Madame Mallory (played by Helen Mirren) with stately precision in honor of her late husband. 

Is a lovely / picturesque provincial French town with much history/beauty ready for "an invasion" of an, again, lovely Indian Muslim family, coming from a culture also with much history and color, as well as its own music, dress and spices?   That's, of course, the question of the film.  And if the story of the film sounds a lot like Chocolat [2000], it's probably not an accident as both films were made by the same director.  However, I would note that this current film is much, much, much gentler.

Now some of the critical opinion above laments some of the schmaltziness of the current film.  The film's set-up for multiple _family friendly_ romantic trajectories.  Besides the inevitable one involving the widowed Papa of the family and Madame Mallory, there's also a cheerful if also serious "sous chef" named Margerite (played masterfully by Charlotte Le Bon) working for Madame Mallory, who also happens to be Hassan's age.

But I honestly loved this film through and through, and readers of my blog would know that I have really big soft spot for "schmaltizness" ;-).  The film's producers included both Steven Spielberg [IMDb] and Oprah Winfrey [IMDb].  I understand why they wanted to get involved and I simply have to applaud the result.  This film shows us _what is possible_ if we open ourselves to the possibility of learning from others.

Again, all the great saints, mystics and philosophers across the ages have understood the message here.  I come from a Catholic / Christian tradition, so I wish to simply add here that in our best days we (Catholics) definitely agree.

"No one is so rich as to have nothing to learn from others, and no one is so poor as to have nothing to offer to others" -- St. Pope John Paul II

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