Chocolat – movie review


Based on the book by Joanne Harris, Chocolat is a rich treat. Nominated for five Oscars, including best picture and best screenplay, this movie centers on Vienne, a new arrival to a small, conservative town whose way with chocolate and appreciation of indulgence threatens the established social order.

Gorgeous, luscious chocolates are in nearly every frame of Chocolat and if you, like me, have a weakness for chocolate this movie will make your eyes rounder than a puppy begging at the dinner table. But this chocolate isn’t just eye candy – in this story, chocolate serves as a metaphore for finding enjoyment in life, for welcoming passion and delight.

This movie is an interesting blend – there is a fairy tale quality, without any overt magic, and nice romantic moments, without being a romantic comedy. More than anything this is a movie about relationships and the ways Vienne’s arrival and fresh perspective forces the town to reevaluate them. A grandmother’s estrangement from her daughter and longing to know her grandson; a woman trapped in an abusive marriage; the toll of Vienne’s lifestyle on her daughter; all come to a head in lovely character moments that are moving without being melodramatic (though occasionally they do dip a toe in cheesy). On top of which, there is no denying this movie’s charm, from the quaint small town streets, to Vienne’s daughter’s imaginary friend, a lame rabbit named Pantoufle, to a priest who enjoys singing Elvis on the sly; this movie is quietly irresistible.

And of course, it doesn’t hurt that Chocolat is brimming with top tier acting talent – two of the movie’s five Oscar nominations belong to the performances of Juliet Binoche and Dame Judy Dench. Johnny Depp has a small but important role to play (and many will swoon over his long locks), and Alfred Molina plays the rigid town leader who tries to drive Vienne away.

As to the faithfulness of this adaptation, author Joanne Harris has this to say:

Lasse Hallström’s film of Chocolat (Miramax, 2001, script by Robert Nelson Jacobs) is in many ways very true to the original. It has been sweetened to some extent, and simplified to meet the needs of a cinema audience, but I think the adaptation is fair and remains close in spirit, if not always in detail, to the book. Most importantly, it is immensely enjoyable – if the book has a message, then it is that enjoyment matters – and although readers may feel that the film occasionally lacks edge, I think it more than makes up for it in simple charm. The ensemble of the cast is wonderful; with Juliette Binoche a luminous Vianne; Judi Dench a tetchy Armande with a dirty laugh; Alfred Molina a hulking, intense but oddly vulnerable Reynaud. The visuals are stunning, especially the interiors – you can almost smell the chocolate – and the inclusion of a Mayan fairytale backstory works very well alongside the 50s French nostalgia. As adaptations go, this seems to me to be a sensitive and faithful one; certainly not as dark as the book, but I like milk chocolate too.

Light but never boring, charming without being cutesy, and touching without being schmaltzy, this movie is a pleasure. Scrumptious chocolate, the gorgeous French countryside, and Johnny Depp – just about everything you could want from a movie.

Book Jacket:

In tiny Lansquenet, where nothing much has changed in a hundred years, beautiful newcomer Vianne Rocher and her exquisite chocolate shop arrive and instantly begin to play havoc with Lenten vows. Each box of luscious bonbons comes with a free gift: Vianne’s uncanny perception of its buyer’s private discontents and a clever, caring cure for them. Is she a witch? Soon the parish no longer cares, as it abandons itself to temptation, happiness, and a dramatic face-off between Easter solemnity and the pagan gaiety of a chocolate festival. Chocolat‘s every page offers a description of chocolate to melt in the mouths of chocoholics, francophiles, armchair gourmets, cookbook readers, and lovers of passion everywhere. It’s a must for anyone who craves an escapist read, and is a bewitching gift for any holiday.