Friday, November 28, 2008


I have owned the video for Chocolat for quite a while, but it seems like I keep forgetting to watch it. I dusted it off yesterday for an afternoon viewing. I needed something sweet to chase the awful drubbing my Detroit Lions suffered at the hands of the Superbowl-bound Tennessee Titans. I have heard many good things about this film, mostly from my good friend Harold, who watched this movie at the theater several years ago. I was not disappointed.

Chocolat tells the story of a young drifter, Vianne Rocher (Juliette Binoche) who blows from town to town with the clever North Wind. She is a confectioner whose chocolate possesses seemingly magical qualities. She travels with her daughter Anouk (Victoire Thivisol) and her imaginary kangaroo. Set in France in the late 1950s, the small villages that Vianne visits tend to have a low tolerance for her lack of religious fervor and seeming lack of traditional values. We catch up with Vianne as she and her daughter brave the harsh winds entering a small village on Sunday, where all but one of the villagers appear to be in church. The lone holdout being Armande Voizin (Judi Dench) who owns a Patisserie that Vianne asks to rent. Vianne’s arrival in the village sets off rumors and speculation, much of it fueled by the pompous Comte Paul de Reynaud (Alfred Molina) whose staunch morality appears threatened by Vianne’s arrival.

Reynaud makes it clear that he does not like Vianne, especially when she opens a Chocolate Shoppe in the middle of the Lenten season. He advises Vianne that her business will not last until Easter. However, the town soon realizes that Vianne’s chocolate has a magical quality to it. It rejuvenates the enjoyment in life that many of the locals appear to have missed. The arrival of river people along the banks of the Village further exacerbates the tension within the community. Vianne’s acceptance of people and willingness to defy the Reynaud creates an atmosphere of competition that is destined to be counter-productive. The competition triggers a regretful chain of events. While these events unfold, the arrival of Vianne changes many dynamics within the Village as her ability to touch people becomes apparent. Vianne must also learn that helping others means nothing if you don’t help yourself.

The screenplay for Chocolat was adapted from Joanne Harris’ novel by Robert Nelson Jacobs. The story does not have a complex theme or strange twists, which makes it fairly predictable. However, the concept of a chocolatier touching people through sweets and affecting the community is an interesting one. The characters are interesting, inserting themselves into the lives of the audience. They seem like genuine people with normal longings. They are an eclectic group with an array of eccentricities and quirks. The interactions and growth that the characters experience in response to the events during the story make them all the more enjoyable. The dialogue was not hackneyed, but was predictable at times. Although the direction of the movie was easy to guess, it was fun watching the characters lead us through the story.

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