The Hundred-Foot Journey is the latest cinematic tale from Lasse Hallström, the director behind personal films like What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Chocolat, Once Around, and My Life as a Dog, and more recently, The Hypnotist, Safe Haven and Dear John. The new film is a culture-clash yarn set mostly in southern France, where a traditional family-run French restaurant is forced to adapt when a family from India immigrates and opens a restaurant across the street.
The Hundred-Foot Journey was photographed by Linus Sandgren, FSF, a Scandinavian whose imagery was seen in last year’s hit American Hustle, as well as in Promised Land, Gus Van Sant’s 2012 film about the effects of hydrofracking.
Hallström imagined a film with a timeless feel, and the food aspect of the film provided Sandgren with many opportunities for sensuous, vivid imagery. Costume designer Pierre-Yves Gayraud and production designer David Gropman left out contemporary clothing and vehicles.
“Based on the script, we all felt that the movie needed to be colorful, and full of texture and detail,” says Sandgren. “As with French cooking, it’s all about quality. There was no cheating – even the windows built in the sets were made with hand-blown glass. The senses are incredibly important to these characters, and Lasse really wanted to communicate that to the audience through the imagery.”
As he did on Promised Land and American Hustle, Sandgren shot on 35mm film. “I felt that it was very important to push for shooting The Hundred-Foot Journey on film to get the correct saturation and richness in all the details,” he explains. “To me, it’s so clear that film can deliver extra depth everywhere in the image, including in the faces and skin tones. It’s a small story, but it’s a very expressive, cinematic movie, emotionally told, and we felt that anamorphic would give the landscape the correct scope, and the sets and food the detail.”
Sandgren says that the filmmakers wanted to design a world that was appealingly romantic, with a touch of magic. Much of the film takes place in early mornings and late afternoons. Another key aspect of the look was HAWK Vintage ’74 lenses from Vantage Film, which are designed to deliver the distinctive flare and contrast characteristics of older glass, but with modern housings and mechanics. “Particularly the flares are unique, but also the softness of the coating is very special with these lenses,” notes Sandgren.
To further tailor the look, Sandgren tested pushing and pulling various negative emulsions. He shot the entire film on KODAK VISION3 500T Color Negative Film 5219, pushing most day scenes a half stop – rating the 500-speed film at 320 for a slight overexposure – and compensating slightly at the lab, Arane-Gulliver in Paris.
“In anamorphic with 500-speed film, it’s super clean, and we wanted to retain a little texture,” he says. “Lasse likes seeing a little grain.”
The majority of the story was filmed either in Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val, a centuries-old village in southern France, or on sets designed to match that milieu. The town’s real market, filled with organically grown produce, artisanal cheese and wine, and freshly caught fish, was another key, picturesque location. A few scenes were done in India, and at one point in the story, one of the main characters moves to Paris. The script called for a cleaner, lifeless look, so for these scenes Sandgren used a digital camera.
Sandgren tried to schedule most exteriors in the late afternoon. But when that wasn’t possible, he had his gaffer Kent Kääntä and key grip Michel Strasser create and control the light with a huge silk on a 40x60-foot truss suspended from a 200-foot construction crane. Above the silk was another truss with 250,000 watts of firepower, used to create dusk ambience, as well as a fireworks effect at night. The rig was also used to block the harsh sunlight in daytime, and for warm, low-angle afternoon rays that were mimicked with 24K Tungsten lights, 12-light Dinos, and then set off by cooler HMIs to make the shadows feel cooler in comparison.
Subtle distinctions in the interior lighting included chandeliers and generally soft, classic lighting in the French family’s house, and warmer, more colorful practical sources in the Indian family’s home.
Helen Mirren plays the matriarch of the family that runs the French restaurant. “She starts paler and stricter, and as she loosens up, we made her flesh tones a bit warmer. The Indian family had a range of skin tones, and we worked to homogenize and unify them somewhat.”
Long, labyrinthine takes bring the audience through the restaurants and homes at times, showing off the locations and delivering a layered sense of family life. A few of these sequences were shot 20 frames per second.
“We did quite a lot of classic film tricks,” says Sandgren. “We weren’t afraid to give the audience as much magic as possible. For example, when the aspiring chef walks into his new kitchen for the first time, it’s a suspenseful moment. We tried to charge the scene with emotion using the composition and movement as well as dramatic lighting.”
Another subtle cue is a yellow light that serves as a metaphorical guiding light for Hassan, the male lead in the Indian family. “At key moments, we incorporated the yellow light, which indicates his heart is home, so to speak. It’s nice to have a visual metaphor in a film like this. It’s subtle, but it’s something we worked with to keep ourselves on track.”
Sandgren continues, “Underneath, this story is really about relationships and prejudice. But it’s all covered in juicy, delicious food, and it reminds us how that can actually connect people and creates an understanding between cultures.”
The Hundred-Foot Journey will hit theaters in late summer.