A film based on multiple juxtaposition that uses innovation instead in addition to the classic synthesis to resolve the tension. It starts off with the East-West paradigm, by showing how a family from India is trying to recreate its existence in the “West”, aka London. (The use of parenthesis signals that am aware of the ethnocentric connotation of this terminology, but don’t know a better one.) Then there is a touch of North-South tension, when they realize that vegetables don’t have “souls” in the UK and found delicious ones much more alive in France.
An other kind of contrast is between classes, as in the high-classed restaurateur is shown as snobbish, while the lower class is more convivial. Going back to geography for a second: they are literally on opposite side of the road and as the title of the movie suggests the road is sometimes harder to cross than to go along on it. The former takes reaction to cruelty. That breaks the war between feuding parts. The commonality, in this case, is the deep-seated empathy, found only under extreme circumstances.
The difference in approaches between cooking, the major theme and metaphor in the movie, is also a point of contention. Both kitchens shown as “traditional”, but they mean different things in different settings. The common point is that the old, well-tested recipes and methods of cooking are highly valued, and resistance to change is strong. However French cuisine is shown as frozen in time, while Indian counterpart is a living tradition.
The outcome of the various romantic entanglements were predictable. What was less so is the path that the hero chooses. The joining of forces was also to be expected as that is a solution for creative tension. However, when Hassam, the protagonist finds himself being an innovator he cannot resist his path and goes to the extreme. His natural and well-cultivated gift in the kitchen allowed him to move up to the highest circle of innovation: to an ultra-modern Parisian restaurant on the bleeding edge of molecular cooking. We get a foreshadow of this, when earlier he answers to the question why change a 200 year old recipe with these words: “200 years is enough.”
Ultimately his taste-buds pull him back to his home. The village where the family settled is gorgeous and overly romanticized. I felt the hand of one of the producers, Steven Spielberg’s, the way it was shown, as he likes to create strong emotional collection through imagery in his viewers. I was strung along the ride too, and started to fantasize how it would be to live in such bucolic circumstances. Hassam’s father defines “home” where the family is, so the village is when they are all there. The son defines home where his heart and favorite flavors are, that evoke longing and memories.
My mother mentioned Lasse Hallström in an email in which she enlisted some of the Scandinavian films and their directors she liked. As I was reading her message my wife came back to me answering my earlier request to find a movie we can watch. She found this movie, which I never heard before and was directed by Hallström. I cannot resist this kind of coincidences and went ahead and watched it with her. It was a good choice. I also recommend not seeing the movie on an empty stomach. We had Chinese, but also noticed on the way home an Indian restaurant that just opened down the road.
The cinematography of Linus Sandgren, from Sweden, was noteworthy too. The two highlights happened to close to each other. There was a continuous at least 2 minute long shot of renovating the old semi-abandoned restaurant, when the camera just went around the house and dozens of actions happened at various parts of the building. It was such a dynamic sequence that I thought it could not be topped off. But then a few minutes later the war between the two kitchens were show with an ever-faster action on chopping boards intercutting the two locales. Back and forth between the sepia toned, traditional, old fashioned Indian kitchen, and the bright-lit, white, modern French one. Also dynamic, but in a different way. Both amazingly well done.
A final note, that goes beyond this movie. I notice a lot of food related activities on the interwebs nowadays. It seems more and more people like to share photos and recipes of the food they eat. They tend to diverge between “the more exotic the better” and “real, honest, home-made” food. They and their proliferation scare me. It reminds me of the decadence of the aristocracy in various ages, like in Caligula’s circles, Louis XIV, Salo… The heavy focus on such a carnal aspect of life as eating, the elevation of elaborate meals, while masses of people have inadequate food (concerning amount, nutritional value and taste) always preceded massive social change. Does the turning to food mean that angry masses will come for us, who can afford playing with and displaying our dinners so extravagantly? Or does it mean that we are working on extending our lifestyle and share the good life with all humanity?