(I am watching this delightful movie tonight whilst baking yet another batch of heavenly cupcakes. I will post all the details tomorrow along with pictures!)
CHOCOLAT The film begins with a north wind blowing Vianne (Juliette Binoche) and her daughter Anouk (Victoire Thivisol) into a small French village at the very beginning of Lent, that pre-Easter period of time, which, in the Catholic liturgy, is dedicated to prayer and physical self-denial. It's not a good time for Vianne, an apparent non-Christian, to open up a chocolate shop across the town square from the church. But, she does so anyway, much to the dismay of the village mayor, the Comte de Reynaud (Alfred Molina). Reynaud is puritanically determined to shut the shop down, and Vianne is equally determined to keep it open. An irresistible force meets an immovable object.
CHOCOLAT, both the book and movie, is a whimsical comedy that blossoms as Lent progresses, and Vianne's shop becomes a place of healing and sanctuary for several of the town's troubled residents. Because Vianne's store is seen (by the local Church establishment) as diametrically opposed to the spirit of the season, the story can also be taken as a gentle fable of conflict between Christianity and paganism.
Juliette Binoche is exquisite in her role. Judi Dench is her usual superb best as Armande, an aged widow deprived of her grandson's company by an over-protective mother, Armande's own daughter (Carrie-Anne Moss). There's also a small role played by Leslie Caron. (Where's she been in recent years?) And Alfred Molina is positively brilliant as the uptight mayor, so dominant that he personally writes the Sunday sermons to be delivered by the local pastor, Fr. Henri, apparently only recently ordained and much in fear of the Comte. Johnny Depp has an engaging role as one member of a band of despised river gypsies just floating through.
One very good reason why CHOCOLAT the film is better than CHOCOLAT the book is the added dimension of visualization which the former imparts to several elements of the storyline, specifically the mysterious wind that blew our heroine into town, Anouk's pet Pantoufle, the delectable chocolates themselves (seductively arrayed in the shop window), and the climax of the conflict between Vianne and the Comte.
CHOCOLAT the film is one that will have the audience leaving the theater feeling good, and maybe wishing for a cup of Vianne's hot chocolate with a pinch of cayenne pepper.
By Joseph Haschka (Glendale, CA USA)