Gastronomes will be salivating as Lasse Hallstrom revisits "Chocolat" (2000) territory. Impressively introduced by executive producers Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, the story revolves around a displaced family from India that opens Maison Mumbai, 100 feet directly across the road from Le Saule Pleureur, a Michelin-starred, classical French restaurant.
When the rickety car carrying the emigrant Kaddam family breaks down near the idyllic village of Saint-Anton-Noble-Val in France's rural Midi-Pyrenees region, Papa (Om Puri) decides that he's found the perfect place to open a boisterous, Bollywood-esque eatery -- much to the dismay of widowed Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), a stern, snobbish perfectionist whose celebrated country inn specializes in elegant haute cuisine, catering to the aristocracy, including the president of France. Tempers flare and knives are brandished in a territorial culture clash, as the rustic rivalry between the two establishments heats up.
More complications erupt when a competitive, love/hate relationship develops between earnest Hassan Kaddam (Manish Dayal), a self-taught, extraordinarily talented cook, and Mme. Mallory's slyly ambitious sous chef, Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), who teaches Hassan how to find wild mushrooms on the riverbank. While tradition-bound Mme. Mallory covets another Michelin star, Hassan Kaddam, toting his family's exotic spice box, must grapple with the emotional price one pays for international success, including coping with Parisians' desire
for nouveau metro molecular fare.
Based on Richard C. Morais' 2010 best-seller, adapted for the screen by Steven Knight ("Locke"), it's directed by Hallstrom, who serves up so many mouth-watering scenes -- like a surprisingly seasoned omelet, steaming boeuf bourguignon and perfectly plated pigeon with truffles.
Masters of their craft, Mirren ("The Queen") and Bollywood star Puri are irresistible as sparring partners, even though their emotional trajectory, admittedly, seems foreordained, as does the romance between Manish Dayal and Charlotte Le Bon.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Hundred-Foot Journey" is a deliciously poignant, highly improbable 7, a spicy fairy tale for foodies.