What is it about movies about food? Often, a few shots of delicious looking meals can make up for a lot of less agreeable story choices. When those saliva-inducing shots are buffeted by compelling characters, a beautiful location, and fun story turns, all the better. Those are the kinds of movies that pique your appetite for both more food and more cinema.
The Hundred Foot Journey is that kind of movie, mostly. Movies like this are commonly called “charming,” and I think that’s what they are principally trying to be. As a cook wants you to leave his or her dining room satisfied, movies like The Hundred Foot Journey want you to leave the theater feeling full and happy. For me, The Hundred Foot Journey succeeded in satisfying my hunger for a pleasant Sunday afternoon at the movies.
The film concerns an Indian family who opens an Indian restaurant across the street from a fine French restaurant in France’s mountainous region. That’s a set-up for humorous culture clashes back-dropped by beautiful vistas if ever there was one, and The Hundred Foot Journey doesn’t disappoint. For an American like me, it’s like getting to visit two foreign cultures at once–France via the setting and India via the food. I loved it.
Food always means something in movies. Including it is always an intentional choice by the filmmakers, because including food in a scene complicates the sound of the scene, where it is set, how it is blocked, and who says what to whom when. Even something simple, like the way Brad Pitt’s “Rusty” is always eating in Ocean’s 11, communicates something specific to the audience. In that case, it fits in with the overall feeling of nonchalance that permeates the picture. Or consider the coffee that Anne Hathaway’s “Andy” has to pick up every day in The Devil Wears Prada. It’s both a symbol of Miranda’s pickiness and of the overwhelming inconvenience of the job Andy has to do. When she spills it on herself, it is both a humorous and a poignant moment, because it shows how this job is ruining Andy’s life.
In The Hundred Foot Journey, food is home. The Indian family is forced to flee Mumbai, and all they can take with them is their box of spices. When they cook with and eat the food prepared with those spices, they are transported back home.
Food can have that effect. From time to time there are dishes that I just have to prepare, because I need have the memories connected to those tastes and smells rekindled. Food is kind of like a magical means of transportation in that way, calling us back to someplace or some-when we’ve been before.
It would be nice if it were possible to perfectly recreate dishes from our past no matter where we find ourselves, to always be able to take that journey through time. The Hundred Foot Journey reminds us that’s not always possible. There are some foods that can only be made in certain places as their ingredients are only available there and the particularities of the water and the air contribute to the taste of the food itself. It is sometime important that we move on in life, that we do and taste new things that can only be done or tasted in new places, but there is always loss involved in that moving on. If you can help it, never leave so quickly you lack the time to say goodbye. Always take time to mourn the loss.
If, like the Kadam family in this story, you don’t have time to say goodbye, it’s all the more important that you give yourself time for mourning. While you mourn, maybe cook a favorite meal or two. It can only help.
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