While waiting for those Oscar-worthy movies to come out in the next few months, and while trying at the same time to avoid “The Expendables”, we went to see “The 100-Foot Journey”. It’s a soufflé of a movie and if you don’t already know what it’s about, I’m sure you can easily find out. Here’s the gist: an Indian family moves to France, opens a restaurant and competes with a local Michelin-starred establishment owned by Madame Mallory (played by the venerable Helen Mirren). Foodie fights ensue.
Of course there are cultural clashes – French snobbery, the Indian custom of haggling, and the comparison of the two cuisines: the fussiness and niceties of French gastronomy and the aromatic, exuberant cooking of India. Among the slicing and dicing, the sauces and the tandoori, there are two predictably fluffy romances that work out exactly as you’d expect. Not that I’m complaining. It’s an easy, end of summer movie that does not challenge. Which is welcome at these nasty times.
What I’m objecting to is the way that language is handled. Why would French people speak to each other in English with French accents?I understand all about suspending disbelief and the fact that Americans (and lots of Canadians) hate subtitles but the way that language is handled in this movie makes no sense. Sometimes Mme Mallory begins addressing her all-French staff in French, then switches to English. Actually Dame Mirren speaks respectable French with a pretty good accent. So, either use subtitles at the appropriate time or do the whole thing in English (and pretend it’s French) like whatever language they’re supposed to speak on Game of Thrones.This absurdity struck me because I recently watched a TV show called “Welcome to Sweden”. It’s a half-hour sitcom about an American who moves to Sweden to be with his girlfriend. It’s mostly shot in Stockholm. No, it’s not on a cable channel or exclusively on the web – it’s on NBC! And amazingly, a good part of a recent episode I saw was subtitled – because most of the characters spoke in Swedish. Granted, just about everyone in Europe speaks some English but when they’re talking to each other, they speak their native language. So, if a TV show on a major U.S. network can have a good part of its dialogue subtitled, surely a movie that aims to be all about culture clashes can handle some French.
Back to food – such movies are enthralling when the food is a complex metaphor for the characters and plot and ideas. Take “Big Night” – one of my all-time favourites – in which the food being prepared is a metaphor for dreams of success and the intense relationship of two brothers. Or “Babette’s Feast”, where a meal becomes a symbol of physical and spiritual redemption. The “100-Foot Journey” is not of this calibre but might do while waiting for those award-winners to come along.
– Miria Ioannou