On the surface, Chocolat appears to be much like many recent films which feature quaint villages, eccentric townsfolk, and cheeky humor. The quaint village is Tranquilite, France, and yes, most of the townsfolk are eccentric in many amusing ways. However, concealed just beneath that charming exterior is a story of darker, more realistic substance.
Chocolat takes place in 1959, and follows the travels of a mystical free spirit, Vianne Rocher, played by Juliette Binoche, and her young daughter, Anouk, played by Victoire Thivisol. They arrive together in Tranquilite and promptly set up a chocolate shop... during Lent. Along with confections that do more than just satisfy, Vianne also dishes out cryptic but helpful advice to the people who frequent her business.
Comte De Reynaud, the Catholic fundamentalist town mayor, soon comes to the conclusion that the actions of Vianne, a single mother who does not attend church and, worst of all, is tempting the town's population with her sinful wares, can no longer be tolerated.
Temptation and tolerance are, in fact, Chocolat's central themes. The issues of religious tradition vs. modern progress are also dealt with. Heavy material, indeed, for such an innocent looking comic fantasy. The script and Hallstrom's exquisite direction balance the extremes of comedy and drama quite well in dealing with these compelling ideas, creating a funny but believable fairy tale that still manages to remain rooted in reality.
The entire cast is fantastic, but if I were to choose a standout, it would have to be Alfred Molina as Comte De Reynaud. His character is the most complex, and he plays the part very convincingly.
So, don't be disappointed that this isn't one of those wacky British comedies we've all grown to love over the past few years, because it's something much more unique. Give in to temptation... give in to Chocolat!
Directed By: Lasse Hallstrom
Starring: Juliette Binoche, Lena Olin, Johnny Depp, Judi Dench,
Alfred Molina, Peter Stormare, Carrie-Anne Moss, Victoire Thivisol
MPAA: Rated PG (Language / Violence)
Running Time: 121 Min.
February 18, 2001
A.J.'s Rating:4 Bordeaux Truffles (my favorite!)
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