“Chocolat” Is Moviemaking at Its Best: A Sweet Story With an Important Message

Chocolat – 4 Stars (Excellent)

It is rare when you can say that a movie is so warm and wonderful that it can even overcome a manipulative, vindictive authority figure and a husband guilty of spousal abuse, but “Chocolat” manages to do so with some great acting, writing and directing.

Chocolat is everything that is right about moviemaking—a romantic comedy with some drama and important lessons to be learned about rejection, love, compassion, kindness, friendship, acceptance and helping people at their point of need.

Like many great movies that earn Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for Best Picture, Chocolat has a storyteller that weaves a tale fantastic fueled by the current of the north winds.

It is the north winds that bring Vianne Rocher (Juliette Binoche), a single mother, and her 6-year-old daughter Anouk (Victorie Thivisol) to a small, rural village in France, where Vianne immediately opens a chocolate shop—with Sunday hours—across the street from a Catholic church during Lenten season.

Many of the village’s 350 residents are skeptical of Vianne’s arrival, and especially because she has opened her business when many of them have given up eating candy during Lent as a sacrifice to their maker.

Comte Paul de Reynaud (Alfred Molina), the mayor, is beyond incensed that anyone would do such a thing in his village. The mayor is a manipulative, control freak who demands that the villagers live up to his code of conduct—basically doing what he says, when he says it, on cue. You are expected to conform to the mayor’s rules, or face being ostracized, and being told to leave.

It is clear that the mayor and the town’s new chocolatier will lock horns. What is not clear is how Vianne’s chocolates will affect those who dare to eat them.

One by one she begins to win over the villagers by helping them at their point of need. Vianne befriends Armande Voizin (Judi Dench), her landlord, whose daughter Caroline Clairmont (Carrie-Anne Moss) refuses to let her mother see her grandson Luc Clairmont (Aurelien Parent-Koenig). Armande is a diabetic who will not take proper care of herself, choosing to live out the rest of her life as she pleases.

Vianne also befriends Josephine Muscat (Lena Olin), who finds refuge at Vianne’s rental above the chocolate shop when she leaves her alcoholic, abusive husband Serge Muscat (Peter Stormare). Violence erupts when Serge storms the apartment to recover his wife; he is as smart as a rock and treats his wife like a punching bag.

Vianne also manages to enliven a couple’s married life with a chocolate aphrodisiac, and encourages an elderly man’s secret love of a widow who has been in mourning for more than 40 years.

Things really begin to spin out of control when a band of river gypsies led by Roux (Johnny Depp) camp on the river near the village, and Vianne takes up with the Irish wanderer Roux. A near death incident leads to some serious consequences for the culprit involved, and the instigator as well. See the movie to find out how it all ends. Hint: You will know it ends with the north wind.

Chocolat (French for chocolate) gets some great acting performances from Juliette Binoche, Judi Dench, Lena Olin and Alfred Molina among others. Johnny Depp plays guitar in the movie in three different scenes, and does two songs on the soundtrack.

The film has a star-studded, international cast. Prior to filming Chocolat, French actress Juliette Binoche had won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in “The English Patient”, British actress Judi Dench had won an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress in “Shakespeare in Love”, and Swedish actress Lena Olin had earned an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress in “Enemies: A Love Story”.

Chocolat was directed by Lasse Hallstrom, whose wife is Lena Olin. The film is based on the novel by Joanne Harris with the screenplay by Robert Nelson Jacobs.

Appreciative voters did not ignore the excellence of this film. The Academy Awards nominated Binoche for Best Actress, Dench for Best Supporting Actress, Jacobs for Best Screenplay, Rachel Portman for Best Original Music, and Chocolat for Best Picture. Binoche, Dench, Portman and Chocolat were also nominated for Golden Globe Awards in the same categories. Chocolat also garnered 8 BAFTA nominations.

The box office numbers were good for Chocolat too. The production budget was $25 million and it pulled in $152 million in revenue worldwide. Chocolat also ranked among the Top 5 films ever to generate the most revenue without hitting the No. 1 rank.

In preparation for the film, Binoche went to a chocolate shop in Paris to learn how to make chocolates. One recipient of chocolates in the film had this to say, “And it melts, God forgive me, it melts ever so slowly on your tongue, and tortures you with pleasure.”

No wonder the villages were won over by Vianne’s creations.

However great the chocolates were in Chocolat, the real sweetness in this film is Juliette Binoche; I fell in love with her all over again. See Chocolat, it is not only tasteful, but delightful and delicious. May God bless the cast and crew for bringing us such a marvelous presentation.

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