The Kadam family run a restaurant in Mumbai, they specialise in Indian food cooked by the family including the growing culinary talent of the eldest son Hassan (Manish Dayal).
When politically based tragedy strikes, the family led by “Papa” (Om Puri) moves lock, stock and cookware to Europe, in search of a new home and restaurant location.
The group travel through Europe until an unexpected event leaves them stranded in Saint Antonin-Noble-Val, a rural French village. Initially cared for by friendly local Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), the family decide to stay, setting up their new restaurant and challenging the locals to enjoy spicy Indian food.
Of course life is never that simple and across the road (the hundred foot divide) is a Michelin starred up-scale French Nouveau Cuisine restaurant, run by the austere and terrifying “Madame Mallory” (Helen Mirren).
What follows is a clash of cultures, culinary styles and wills between the two head strong characters Mallory and Papa. Gentle romance is thrown into the mix as Hassan learns European classical cooking structures from Marguerite, allowing his fusion of cooking styles to come to the fore.
The whole film is burnished with director Lasse Halsstrom’s (of Chocolat fame) slightly mystical, almost dreamlike quality. This both adds and detracts from the film, there are elements of reality, notably an unexpected and rather surprising nod to the French dislike for “newcomers”.
Equally the story, setting and characters are not really believable, outside of a movie set. With actions and motivations seemingly part of the screenplay rather than a natural extension of character behaviour. Almost as if the director wants the film to exist equally in both the real and slightly whimsical world, a difficult balancing act to pull off, something “Chocolat” and “Amelie” achieved.
Mirren normally so reliable is saddled with a French attitude and accent that fails to fully use her talents, Puri as “Papa” make for a fun gruff character with a heart of gold. The attractive and conveniently single “Marguerite” Le Bon gets a few moments to shine but the heavy lifting is left to Dayal and he largely does not disappoint.
The story tends to lose focus half way through the tale, breaking any spell that has been woven, with an ending that feels tacked on, by necessity bringing the strands back together.
There are elements of “Food Porn” for the Gastronomy inclined among the audience, the creation of the five basics and their subsequent tasting is a sensual scene. The reveal of the family spices is well played and adds some much need grounding to the story.
A slight film that starts well before encountering an uneven mid-section before coming to a conclusion more convenient than believable.
With the talent on board and a more focussed story, this could have been better but overall a pleasant undemanding film, that will largely please the target audience.