This is the story of two restaurants directly across the street from each other in a small French town. One is run by a Frenchwoman (played by Helen Mirren), a long time resident of the town who is proud that her restaurant is a well-known and classy place that has earned a much-coveted place in the Michelin guidebook of fine restaurants. But it has just a one star rating and she lusts after being promoted to two stars. The other is a new restaurant run by an Indian family that decided to start a new life there after their van broke down. Mirren resents the presence of such a déclassé establishment next to hers and tries to ensure that they fail and leave.
Superb character actor Om Puri plays the patriarch of the Indian family of five children. His wife was killed during one of the Hindu-Muslim riots that periodically roil that country and their restaurant was torched, resulting in the family leaving their home and arriving in Europe as refugees. This family is Muslim but that plays no role in the film, except minimally in the cuisine. One of Puri’s children Hasan turns out to be an exceptional cook and his fusion recipes serve as a metaphor for how to bridge what initially seems like a deep cultural divide.
It is a familiar east-meets-west story. It is the flip side of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel that I reviewed earlier. There it was westerners who go east but here it is easterners who go west. I tend to be a little wary of such films because the east is often caricaturized to make the people seem more exotic than they really are but this film avoids that trap better than the other one. This is mainly due to the excellent casting of the Indian family, all of whom play believable characters. The embarrassment of the more westernized children of Puri with their father’s unabashed pride and upholding of his heritage and his practices (such as haggling over the price of everything) is funny and something that immigrant families will recognize.
It is an enjoyable film that I can recommend, with the verbal sparring between the two veteran actors Mirren and Puri the highlight. Mirren is always good but I couldn’t help think that that other wonderful actress Charlotte Rampling would have been ideal for this role because she not only has the required icy beauty and upper class bearing but she would also have been more plausible as an English-speaking Frenchwoman. But Rampling has nowhere near the name recognition in the US that Mirren has and would not have been able to garner the same attention and box office.
Here’s the trailer.