Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Stars: Juliette Binoche, Victoire Thivisol, Alfred Molina, Carrie-Anne Moss, Lena Olin, Judi Dench, Peter Stormare, John Wood, Leslie Caron, Johnny Depp
Here we go again! Another charming fable that explores the magical healing powers of food, Lasse Hallstrom’s Choclat follows in the same vein as the wonderful Like Water For Chocolate, although there is a harder edge here. Audiences may also find this film more nourishing and stimulating than the recent Woman On Top. C
hocolat is set in the quaint, pictureque French village of Lansquenet, which has followed a strict sense of tradition, moral oppression and religious propriety for centuries. Into this staid little village wanders Vianne (Juliette Binoche, from The English Patient, etc), a descendadnt of an ancient race who believe in the power of choclate to heal emotional problems and cure all sorts of ills. Vianne and her young daughter Anouk (Victoire Thivisol) wander from town to town dispensing their wonderful treats, healing wounds and moving on. Vianne arrives in Lansquenet during Lent, and opens her choclate shop in the town’s square, much to the chagrin of the pompous, self righteous mayor Comte de Reynaud (Alfred Molina), who has made it his personal business to oversee the town’s moral values. Reynaud quickly mounts a campaign of opposition through the pulpit.
Meanwhile Vianne’s sumptuous treats slowly work their magic on several of the town’s lonely and misunderstood folk. Armande (Judi Dench) is an ailing woman who is estranged from her daughter Caroline (The Matrix’s Carrie-Anne Moss) and forbidden to see her grandson Luc. Josephine (Lena Olin) is the wife of the abusive bar owner Serge (Peter Stormare), and her friendship with Vianne eventually allows her to stand on her own feet and find independence. And poor old Guillaume Blerot (John Wood) carries a torch for Madame Audel (veteran French star Leslie Caron), who has been in mourning for her husband for nearly forty years. The arrival of Roux (Johnny Depp), a river gypsy, eventually teaches Vianne the meaning of belonging and settling down.
The films of Swedish director Hallstrom often have a subversive quality and always explore similar themes of an outsider struggling to be accepted and change the often harsh environment around them (My Life As A Dog, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, the recent The Cider House Blues, etc), and Chocolat is no exception. The film celebrates individuality over conformity.
The performances of the ensemble cast are wonderful. Olin brings a sense of strength to her role.