Steven Knight’s eclectic film and TV career has taken him from writer on ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’ to writing and directing the brilliant ‘Locke’ earlier this year and now on to this modern fairy-tale depicting the trials and tribulations of an Indian family attempting to open a restaurant in France. This is a very different film to the atmospheric, tense car thriller that he helmed, and Knight’s talent for diversity shows again here. Directed well by Lasse Hillström and always unapologetically sweet even in its darker moments, it’s a flight of fancy that takes you along for the ride but doesn’t pretend like it’ll have anything to say or even stick with you that long after you’ve seen it.
The film stars Helen Mirren, who is fluent in French but not so fluent in pretending to be a French person speaking English. Her accent veers somewhat over the course of the movie, but her performance is typically charming and as alluring as ever as she overcomes her odd accent and showcases her powerhouse acting credentials. Fellow acting stalwart Om Puri also puts in a charismatic performance and is joined astutely by Manish Dayal and Charlotte Le Bon whose own stories may be so much of a fantasy that it borders on ludicrous but if you’re in the mood for putting real life out of your mind for roughly two hours and being whisked away to peaceful, rural France.
Sure, the film tries to build in a darker undercurrent in sections of it, but it’s all washed away by the constant river of rainbows and wonderful looking food that’s thrown at you. Completely smothered with sweetness as it is, the issues that it tries to address are buried quickly and all you can think of soon enough is the relentlessly jolly discussions about cooking that litter it in the rest of it, like a well prepared sauce could just wash all your troubles away.
As much emphasis as it puts on sickly phrases like “food is memories” it’s obvious that the film has its heart in the right place, and Hillström knows how to put together a touching story, even if it lacks the substance or the requisite humour to take it above merely being a pleasant distraction. As far as food-related films go this year, it’s below Jon Favreau’s ‘Chef’, which is simply a lot more funny, but has enough about it to make it worthwhile.
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