Chocolat (2000) / Comedy-Romance
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sensuality and some violence
Running Time: 121 min.
Cast: Juliette Binoche, Johnny Depp, Alfred Molina, Lena Olin, Judi Dench, Carrie-Anne Moss, Peter Stormare
Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Screenplay: Robert Nelson Jacobs (based on the novel by Joanne Harris)
Review published June 15, 2001
Director Lasse Hallstrom has the distinguished honor of being the director of my pick for the least deserving Best Picture nominee for the last two years (including Cider House Rules). There's no question of his talent, as both films are very well made, but there's also no question that Miramax pushed both films with finesse, scoring their eighth consecutive film to be in the top five choices. OK, enough of this sounding like a bad review, Chocolat is still enjoyable entertainment made with professional ease.
Set in 1959 in a small French town, Vianne (Binoche, Blue) and her young daughter have just moved in and started their own chocolatery. There is something special in the ingredients of this chocolate which causes people to lose their inhibitions, and this does not go unnoticed by the mayor of the town (Molina, Magnolia), who sees Vianne as an agent of the devil, trying to cause immorality amongst his townspeople. He sets about trying to get people against her, and enacts laws in an effort to shut her shop down. She allies herself with a group of "pirates" which furthers the efforts against her, while she tries her best to help the ailing people of her town.
It's hard to watch Chocolat on its own terms, since it seems to push its theme of self-expression vs. religious conservatism with almost every scene in a plainly obvious way. Advocacy against repressive life is certainly nothing new in cinema or literature, and this makes Chocolat nothing more than a well-made film with a derivative theme. Not really as distinctive as the last film to push the same envelope, Pleasantville, Chocolat still is perfect in its cast of actors and in the use of lush cinematography and music, so much so that it still makes this oft told tale enjoyable.
Chocolat is a solid production of a superficial story; just don't let the Best Picture nod fool you into thinking it's going to be a great film. Just like real chocolate, it's a tasty morsel that satisfies for the moment, but definitely far from a satisfying meal.
©2001 Vince Leo