In the Dark with Melanie Dishman: Only explosions of flavor in this cinematic morsel
A love affair for foodies, this could bookend Lasse Hallstrom’s little truffles could bookend Lasse Hallstrom’s little truffle “Chocolat” (2000), another ode to deliciousness from the Swedish director also set in a small French town. This more colorful version focuses on Indian food via a displaced family forced to leave their homeland after a politically charged tragedy.
The patriarch, Papa (veteran actor Om Puri), father of five, decides on the little village of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val — the name is bigger than the place itself — to settle down after he discovers an old farmhouse that he thinks will make a great location for a restaurant. Called Maison Mumbai, it’s everything its competitor, isn’t about a hundred feet across the road, Le Saule Pleureur, is not. It’s loud and spicy and very un-French, to the utter disgust of the Michelin-star restaurant’s stuffy owner, Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren). Meanwhile her sous chef, Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon) and Papa’s eldest son Hassan (Manish Dayal), the talent behind Maison Mumbai, are heating things up while picking mushrooms in the moonlight.
Like “Chef” released earlier this summer, this too features sensuous close ups of food preparation designed to set your taste buds zinging. That movie had the Cuban sandwich as its object of desire. For this latest food flick, you can take your pick between Indian or French menus, and judging by Facebook posts from last week, samosas won out over sweetbreads.
Inspired by the Richard C. Morais novel, which actually takes place over a period of years, Steven Knight’s script shortens the action considerably as Hassan’s skills win over Mme. Mallory and she takes him under her tutelage after he auditions by preparing a simple omelet for her. It’s a beautiful scene of food foreplay, really, as eggs are lovingly whisked together and spices sprinkled in to the sauté pan and the fluffy mixture folded over on itself in slow motion, but the piece de resistance, um climax, is the rapturous look on Mirren’s face as she puts the first forkful to her lips. In the subtlest of ways, she conveys her joy at tasting something extraordinary.
She and Puri, whose characters enjoy their own flirtation after sparring across the road for the first half of the film, are really the main ingredients to this trifle. They hold it together with the perfection of a recipe that is tried and true as they squabble over trivialities and dance their way into each other’s hearts.
Produced by Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg, this is the kind of movie that wins over audiences with its heartwarming, simplistic theme and happy ending. It’s also the kind of movie that most critics eschew for the very same reason. But after a steady diet of superhero comic book character sequels, it’s good to vary your palate by savoring a little morsel of something different. Step out and take the “Journey.”