When a single mother and her six-year-old daughter move to rural France and open a chocolate shop - with Sunday hours - across the street from the local church, they are met with some skepticism. But as soon as they coax the townspeople into enjoying their delicious products, they are warmly welcomed.
Driven by fate, Vianne (Binoche) drifts into a tranquil French village with her daughter Anouk (Victoire Thivisol, from Ponette) in the winter of 1959. Her newly opened chocolatier is a source of attraction and fear, since Vianne's ability to revive the villagers' passions threatens to disrupt their repressive traditions. The pious mayor (Alfred Molina) sees Vianne as the enemy, and his war against her peaks with the arrival of "river rats" led by Roux (Depp), whose attraction to Vianne is immediate and reciprocal. Splendid subplots involve a battered wife (Lena Olin), a village elder (Judi Dench), and her estranged daughter (Carrie-Anne Moss), and while the film's broader strokes may be regrettable (if not for Molina's rich performance, the mayor would be a caricature), its subtleties are often sublime. Chocolat reminds you of life's simple pleasures and invites you to enjoy them. --Jeff Shannon
johnny depp on the soundtrack of chocolat
The Fabulously Dreamy Johnny Depp
The Always Fabulous Judi Dench
|Judi Dench||...||Armande Voizin|
The Amazing & Fabulous Juliette Binoche
Director Lasse Hallstrom has a gift for telling poetic stories of people seeking acceptance and a sense of normality. Previous films like My Life As A Dog, What's Eating Gilbert Grape and last year's The Cider House Rules all boast characters with vivid imaginations that seek solace in fantasy to escape the harsh realities of their situation. The delicious Chocolat, based on Joanne Harris's novel, is again a gentle and charming tale of someone looking to belong, although this time Hallstrom's hero is a woman.
Juliette Binoche plays Vianne Rocher, the unmarried mother of a small daughter, Anouk (Victoire Thivisol). Her wanderlust has brought them to a small French town nestled amongst rolling hills whose idyllic charm appears plucked from atop a biscuit tin. Set in 1959, both the town and its inhabitants seem from a bygone era of innocence and simplicity.
Rocher's decision to open a chocolaterie during Lent immediately incurs the displeasure of Comte de Reynaud (Molina) the town's figurehead and moral conscience. The rest of the townsfolk find themselves torn between their faith and the alluring sights and smells offered by the new shop.
Gradually the aphrodisiacal qualities of Rocher's special recipe begin to take effect on the less pious and before long she is dispensing a sympathetic ear and advice to the locals as well as just chocolate. Her impact on the small community is immediate and great. She befriends the frightened Josephine Muscat (Olin), instilling her with the courage to finally leave her abusive husband. She also schemes to reunite her feisty landlady, Armande Voizin (Dench), with her estranged grandson while playing matchmaker for two elderly citizens.
Having begun to accept the stranger, the town's prejudices are once again piqued with the arrival of a band of gypsies whose leader (Depp) uses his charm and impossibly good looks to stir Rocher's feelings. But just when it appears she's getting settled, her restless urges threaten to disrupt things.
Beautifully photographed by Roger Pratt, Chocolat has a fairy tale look and feel to it, possessing the relaxed elegance of a European film rather than one borne by Hollywood. The setting and subject matter all add to this illusion making the decision to have the actors speaking English seem a little incongruous. Although the move is an obvious financial one, the result somehow compromises the film's authenticity.
However the performances are all wonderful. Binoche is captivating as the enigmatic Rocher. Her ready smile convinces as well as conceals. Dench is typically adept at finding warmth and humour even in the cantankerous Amande, while Olin's painfully effective as the tremulous Josephine. The well meaning but lonely Comte, who's struggling to come to terms with his wife's absence and his ever-growing feelings for his secretary (Moss), is played with dignity and vulnerability by Molina.
Hallstrom is a master of creating intimate and convincing worlds, inhabited by colourful and original characters. Chocolat is a tender film full of humour and depth, delivered with a deft touch and just the right amount of sweetener.