Chocolat is the beautiful and captivating comedy from the acclaimed director of The Cider House Rules! Nobody could have imagined the impact that the striking Vianne (Binoche) would make when she arrived in a tranquil, old-fashioned French town. In her very unusual chocolate shop, Vianne begins to create mouth-watering confections that almost magically inspire the straitlaced villagers to abandon themselves to temptation and happiness! But it is not until another stranger, the handsome Roux (Johnny Depp—Sleepy Hollow), arrives in town that Vianne is finally able to recognize her own desires!
With movies like Chocolat, it’s always best to relax your intellectual faculties and absorb the abundant sensual pleasures, be it the heart-stopping smile of chocolatier Juliette Binoche as she greets a new customer, an intoxicating cup of spiced hot cocoa, or the soothing guitar of an Irish gypsy played by Johnny Depp. Adapted by Robert Nelson Jacobs from Joanne Harris’s popular novel and lovingly directed by Lasse Hallström, the film covers familiar territory and deals in broad metaphors that even a child could comprehend, so it’s no surprise that some critics panned it with killjoy fervor. Their objections miss the point. Familiarity can be comforting and so can easy metaphors when placed in a fable that’s as warmly inviting as this one.
Driven by fate, Vianne (Binoche) drifts into a tranquil French village with her daughter Anouk (Victoire Thivisol, from Ponette) in the winter of 1959. Her newly opened chocolatier is a source of attraction and fear, since Vianne’s ability to revive the villagers’ passions threatens to disrupt their repressive traditions. The pious mayor (Alfred Molina) sees Vianne as the enemy, and his war against her peaks with the arrival of “river rats” led by Roux (Depp), whose attraction to Vianne is immediate and reciprocal. Splendid subplots involve a battered wife (Lena Olin), a village elder (Judi Dench), and her estranged daughter (Carrie-Anne Moss), and while the film’s broader strokes may be regrettable (if not for Molina’s rich performance, the mayor would be a caricature), its subtleties are often sublime. Chocolat reminds you of life’s simple pleasures and invites you to enjoy them. —Jeff Shannon
Barnes and Noble
This modest but handsome Chocolat enchants viewers with its whimsical charm, beguiling characters, and unerring insights, while providing the best English-language vehicle to date for the luminous Juliette Binoche. Binoche portrays a peripatetic single mother who arrives in a sleepy French village and establishes a chocolate shop during Lent. She displays a remarkable facility for sensing the moods of customers and finding confections to match, but the sensuous appeal of her products is lost on the town mayor (Alfred Molina, who’s never been better), an uptight soul who believes she will undermine his authority. Johnny Depp, as an Irish riverboat gypsy, supplies a leading man of sorts, but Chocolat is really an ensemble film, and his contribution is no less important than those of Molina, Judi Dench (playing Binoche’s irascible landlady), and Lena Olin (as an abused wife who works in the shop). Director Lasse Hallstrom (The Cider House Rules) resists the temptation to make his film a full-blown allegory, but he also refuses to allow the story’s realistic elements to overshadow its mystical ones. Every bit as tasty a confection as the ones Binoche makes onscreen, Chocolat is smooth, sweet, and satisfying. Ed Hulse
Illuminating Peter Mayle’s South of France with a touch of Laura Esquivel’s magic realism, Chocolat is a timeless novel of a straitlaced village’s awakening to joy and sensuality.
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.