Chocolat is a period drama (with a touch of comedy and romance), set in a small French country village. The village is traditional and deeply religious. Piety and tranquility is at the order of the day. The mayor, Comte de Reynad (Alfdred Molina) keeps a firm hand, controlling every aspect of the villagers’ lives including the priest’s sermons. Vienne (Juliettee Bincoche) a rootless, free-spirited, single mother arrives in town with her daughter, Anouk, in tow. Vienne rents out the village patisserie and movies into the apartment upstairs. Vienne is a passionate chocolatier and opens a chocolate shop, where she whips up the most divine and decadent chocolate creations. Reynaud is not happy with this at all, since it is time for Lent and such indulgences are most improper. Vienne also does not share in the religious values of the town and this is somewhat troublesome. Despite resistance the villagers find themselves been drawn to the chocolaterie. Vienne’s charm and kindness finds it’s way into their hearts. Small changes begin a ripple effect in the life of the villagers. One day a band of drifters arrive on their river boat. Vienne and Anouk befriend Roux (Johnny Depp), a charming, guitar playing, drifter. Reynaud is deeply uncomfortable with the presence of the drifters in his pristine village and he becomes more embittered against Vienne. Reynaud spreads his poison against Vienne, her patisserie and the drifters, making the outsiders feel even more unwelcome. Can Vienne find a home in the village or will the status-quo keep the upper hand?
Given how prominently Johnny Depp features in the poster and promotion of this film, his character shows up fairly late in the game. Though, Roux is a catalytic element in the plot and an essential part of the film. The brilliant performances from Binoche, Molina, Dench, Olin and Depp (but also the overall stellar cast) are skillfully directed. There is so much to the characters of this wonderful story: The young, slightly dark, boy who secretly is a sketch artist. The young village priest who listens to Elvis. The old woman, estranged from her daughter, who badly wants to see her grandson. The friendless, mousy, kleptomaniac who emerges from the shadow of her abusive tavern keeper husband and finds a best friend in Vienne. The old man with the little dog who is in love with a grieving widow.
Chocolat is as rich and beautiful as artisanal hand-made chocolates. Like chocolate the film is both bitter and sweet. It is a tale of repression, prejudice, conformity, individuality, resentment, friendship, acceptance and kindness. This is the perfect movie to watch when you feel stuck in a rut or if you just need a little bit of sweetness and inspiration.
You would probably like this film if you liked Pleasantville and Amelie.
Cast includes: Judi Dench, Carrie Ann Moss, Lena Olin, Peter Stormare, Hugh O’Conor
Director: Lasse Hallström (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, The Cider House Rules)
Screenplay: Robert Nelson Jacobs (The Shipping News, The Water Horse)
– Based on a novel by Joanne Harris
Duration: 121 mins
Release: 2000 (UK)
Age Restriction: 12