Chocolat Review

“Chocolat” sounds like a gooey foreign love story, but it’s actually a fable with classic story archetypes and a hint of magic, all of which finishes pleasantly with a tender morsel — err, moral.

It’s about as sophisticated as chocolate, which is not very sophisticated, so “Chocolat” is as easily digested as it is open to criticism for a lack of heady drama. Nominated for five Oscars, one would think it dwells in intellectual territory, but “Chocolat” comes from the heart — and possibly the stomach. “The Cider House Rules” director Lasse Hallstrom sees these charms and wisely makes them the focal point of this likable film.

Juliette Binoche stars as a mysterious but likable woman name Vianne who comes to a small, bland and morally rigid French town run by the Catholic church and opens a chocolate shop with her imaginative young daughter. We know only that “the wind brought her” to this town — her past remains a mystery, which creates that slightly magical tall tale effect. Within the first fifteen minutes her shop is open for business and she’s successfully predicting what each customer’s favorite treat will be. Binoche exudes the charm the role requires but never sacrifices sophistication despite not having a clearly established back story.

On the opposite end of the spectrum sits Alfred Molina as Comte de Reynaud, the moral authority figure who immediately sees Vianne’s shop as an affront to his town and its Catholic principles. Cold on the outside but clearly soft on the inside, of all the Oscar nominations, somehow Molina’s performance — in my opinion the film’s best — was overlooked.

Vianne’s chocolate creates quite the stir, improving one couple’s love life, inspiring a wife (Lena Olin) to leave her abusive husband and reuniting a old woman (Judi Dench) with her grandson. In a more serious film, this would all seem quite convenient and unlikely, but few viewers will fail to notice that chocolate is a metaphor here for something bigger. It embodies that blurred line between what is temptation and what is healthy possibility.

That metaphor provides a strong moral fiber for “Chocolat” which turns out to be what makes it a fine film. It has a tendency to dull a bit in the middle and the entrance of Johnny Depp late into the run time despite his high billing confuses more than helps the story, but overall “Chocolat” is rich in its simplicity. When the young priest, Pere Henri (Hugh O’Conor) delivers the closing words of the film at Easter Mass after appearing as a peculiar and weak character throughout, the story’s message becomes abundantly clear and the intention and wisdom of the film shine through.

“Chocolat” could easily be construed as critical of organized religion, Catholicism in particular, but Pere Henri’s speech beautifully connects the film’s call for embracing life with Christian philosophy. It’s a timeless message with timeless components, but the unique premise and setting make “Chcolat” a fresh tale of great wisdom.

4/5 Stars

Chocolat (2000)
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom
Written by Robert Nelson Jacobs, Joanne Harris (novel)
Starring: Juliette Binoche, Alfred Molina, Johnny Depp, Judi Dench

1 Comment

  1. Adilah says:

    I love love love this movie! Binoche is excellent in this film and Depp is Divine.

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