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When a single mother and her six-year-old daughter move to rural France and open a chocolate shop - with Sunday hours - across the street from the local church, they are met with some skepticism. But as soon as they coax the townspeople into enjoying their delicious products, they are warmly welcomed. Written by
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Once upon a time, there was a quiet little village in the French countryside, whose people believed in Tranquilité - Tranquility. If you lived in this village, you understood what was expected of you. You knew your place in the scheme of things. And if you happened to forget, someone would help remind you. In this village, if you saw something you weren't supposed to see, you learned to look the other way. If perchance your hopes had been disappointed, you learned never to ask for ...
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We all have our vices. Vices make us complete human beings. We can surpress them and deny them, but we can't quite run away from them. Does it not strike you as a little humorous when someone looks at a menu, knows exactly what they want, but then decides not to get it for fear they will not only offend their God, but offend their own nature? Lasse Hollstrom's latest film, Chocolat, knows all about that person.
Juliette Binoche stars as Vianne Rosher, a chocolate shop owner who not only gets people to talk about their forbidden fruits, but also has the ability to make people happily indulge in them. She, along with her daughter, Anouk (Victoire Thivisol), moves into a quiet French village during Lent and opens her chocolate shop. The townspeople look in the window, admire the confections for a moment, then walk on by.
One diabetic woman, Amande (Judi Dench), decides to stay for a little while. Vianne puts a colorful ceramic plate on the table and spins it around. She asks what Amande sees in the image. Amande tells her and Vianne presumes to know exactly what kind of confection Amande would like the best. We could only dream of such customer service this time of year.
Amande's young grandson, Luc, an aspiring artist, also can't seem to stay away from the chocolate store, in spite of the wishes of his churchgoing mother (Carrie-Anne Moss). Actually, the whole town goes to the same church and it doesn't take long before the Mayor (Alfred Molena) has his say against the shop, since many of the chocolates have been carved into the shapes of naked women and have names such as Nipples of Venus. The chocolates also seem to be changing people's behavior. A sexless, joyless married couple all of a sudden can't keep their Butterfingers off each other.
The non-churchgoing Vianne eventually becomes the center of the town's controversy, but she soon has company after the arrival of the river rats, a group of Irish merchants who travel by boat to pawn off whatever they can, much to the dismay of the townspeople. Here, Vianne meets Roux (Johnny Depp), and they become fast friends and, well, you know the rest.
The story of Chocolat could be described in one sentence-Footloose, only instead of dancing, it's chocolates. However, in this film we have some magic realism to deal with. Unfortunately, the film does not quite develop its own `magical' ideas. It gets bogged down by the usual story elements an d sub-plots we often see with this kind of story. We get the battered wife who finds solace in Vianne's shop and we get the burning of a particular place (here, a boat) to further drive home the point that outsiders will not be tolerated. I would have liked a little more `magic.'
On the other hand, we do get some magic in the form of the performances. Juliette Binoche actually smiles and acts charming, as opposed to the sorrowful and pensive roles in which we usually see her. What a relief to finally see her carrying a picture with warmth, confidence and wit, as well as beauty. The guitar-twanging Johnny Depp (reuniting with his Gilbert Grape director), with a ponytail and an Irish accent, compliments her with a rugged look and easygoing charm that makes his fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants character a perfect soulmate for Binoche.
I recommend stopping by the candy counter or sneaking in some Fannie May confections before the movie starts. This film does for chocolate what Big Night did for Italian food. In spite of its flaws, Chocolat makes for a far more rewarding and satisfying film experience than Hollstrom's last feel-gooder, the over-rated Cider House Rules. In the end, something about this film won me over. It could have been the irrisistable theme of great food being as close to Godliness as one could get. It could have been the sights of chocolates being created and turned into glorious, statuesque works of art. It could have been the enjoyable cast, each member dealing with their hidden anguish and repression. Or it could have been all of the above, combined with the captivating and alluring grace of Juliette Binoche.
We all have our vices.
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