Chocolat (1988) Poster

(1988)

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9/10
Emotionally resonant
howard.schumann29 March 2004
Set in the Cameroons in West Africa in the 1950s, Claire Denis' Chocolat is a beautifully photographed and emotionally resonant tone poem that depicts the effects of a dying colonialism on a young family during the last years of French rule. The theme is similar to the recent Nowhere in Africa, though the films are vastly different in scope and emphasis. The film is told from the perspective of an adult returning to her childhood home in a foreign country. France Dalens (Mireille Perrier), a young woman traveling through Cameroon, recalls her childhood when her father (Francois Cluzet) was a government official in the French Cameroons and she had a loving friendship with the brooding manservant, Protée (Isaach de Bankolé). The heart of the film, however, revolves around France's mother Aimée (Giulia Boschi) and her love/hate relationship with Protée that is seething with unspoken sexual tension.

The household is divided into public and private spaces. The white families rooms are private and off limits to all except Protée who works in the house while the servants are forced to eat and shower outdoors, exposing their naked bronze bodies to the white family's gazes. It becomes clear when her husband Marc (François Cluzet) goes away on business that Aimée and Protée are sexually attracted to each other but the rules of society prevent it from being openly acknowledged. In one telling sequence, she invites him into her bedroom to help her put on her dress and the two stare at each other's image in the mirror with a defiant longing in their eyes, knowing that any interaction is taboo.

The young France (Cecile Ducasse) also forms a bond with the manservant, feeding him from her plate while he shows her how to eat crushed ants and carries her on his shoulders in walks beneath the nocturnal sky. In spite of their bond, the true nature of their master-servant relationship is apparent when France commands Protée to interrupt his conversation with a teacher and immediately take her home, and when Protée stands beside her at the dinner table, waiting for her next command. When a plane loses its propeller and is forced to land in the nearby mountains, the crew and passengers must move into the compound until a replacement part can be located. Each visitor shows their disdain for the Africans, one, a wealthy owner of a coffee plantation brings leftover food from the kitchen to his black mistress hiding in his room. Another, Luc (Jean-Claude Adelin), an arrogant white Frenchman, upsets the racial balance when he uses the outside shower, eats with the servants, and taunts Aimée about her attraction to Protée leading her to a final emotional confrontation with the manservant.

Chocolat is loosely autobiographical, adapted from the childhood memories of the director, and is slowly paced and as mysterious as the brooding isolation of the land on which it is filmed. Denis makes her point about the effects of colonialism without preaching or romanticizing the characters. There are no victims or oppressors, no simplistic good guys. Protée is a servant but he is also a protector as when he stands guard over the bed where Aimée and her daughter sleep to protect them from a rampaging hyena. It is a sad fact that Protée is treated as a boy and not as a man, but Bankolé imbues his character with such dignity and stature that it lessens the pain. Because of its pace, Western audiences may have to work hard to fully appreciate the film and Denis does not, in Roger Ebert's phrase, "coach our emotions". The truth of Chocolat lies in the gestures and glances that touch the silent longing of our heart.
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a thoughtful and interesting movie
Heart892 March 2001
By way of a woman's remembrance we are asked to reflect upon themes - coming of age, colonialism, race, religion, the power of the elements - that are often presented in a heavy-handed and awkward manner.

This film is very understated and thoughtful. There is no one single message or moral here; these are complex themes and so there is often ambiguity.

I liked this film very much. I know this will seem trite, but, not many American Directors make small films like this - ones that deal with complex themes in a gentle and intelligent manner.
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10/10
Pointillism
a-jorgensen-115 September 2007
I think this movie would be more enjoyable if everyone thought of it as a picture of colonial Africa in the 50's and 60's rather than as a story. Because there is no real story here. Just one vignette on top of another like little points of light that don't mean much until you have enough to paint a picture. The first time I saw Chocolat I didn't really "get it" until having thought about it for a few days. Then I realized there were lots of things to "get", including the end of colonialism which was but around the corner, just no plot. Anyway, it's one of my all-time favorite movies. The scene at the airport with the brief shower and beautiful music was sheer poetry. If you like "exciting" movies, don't watch this--you'll be bored to tears. But, for some of you..., you can thank me later for recommending it to you.
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Difficult but worth it.
alice liddell23 February 2000
A lovely comedy-drama that seems like a gorgeous, sunlit, Orientalist-like tourism into an unfathomable Africa, and an elaborate, irrelevant exercise in Merchant-Ivory-style historical reconstruction, but is actually a quietly disturbing examination of the effects of colonialism. Being French, the focus is one the microcosmic - it's not vast historical truths that are enacted, but the inability of a beautiful white woman to act on sexual stirrings for her black servant. The film's surface elegance conceals remarkable disruptions in point of view and a storytelling style so elliptical you might even miss the point if you're not careful. CHOCOLAT is also a wonderful coming-of-age film that refuses the easy moral progress typical of the genre. The lengthy coda could have been shorter, though.
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8/10
Deeper than Black vs. White
pablopaz23 December 2000
Unfortunately, because of US viewers' tendency to shun subtitles, this movie has not received the distribution nor attention it merits. Its subtle themes of belonging, identity, racial relations and especially how colonialism harms all parties, transcend the obvious dramatic tensions, the nostalgic memories of the protaganiste's childhood, and the exoticism of her relationship with her parents' "houseboy," perhaps the only "real" human she knows. We won't even look at her mother's relationship with this elegant man. There! i hope i've given you enough of a hook to take it in, whether you speak French or like subtitles or not. I challenge you to be as brave, strong and aware as La P'tite.
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10/10
For use in high school classes
Orgelist28 February 2001
My 3rd-year French classes always enjoyed this film very much. In a multi-cultural, inner-city high school, the film provided many subjects for discussion (in French in class, but I know a lot of discussion went on in English after class). The most obvious is the relationship between Protée and Aimée compared to the one between Protée and France.

I always mentioned that I felt this film had one of the "sexiest" scenes I had ever seen in a movie. One year, a 17-year-old African-American shouted, "Yes!" when he figured out the scene: the one where Protée is helping Aimée lace up her evening dress, all the while both are examining the reflection of the other in the mirror. Directors use the "mirror technique" when then want to focus on the inner conflict on the part of one or more character in a scene: this is a perfect example of the technique, and it is "sexy".

Most students had trouble understanding the end of the film. One suggested that one theme of the movie was "Africanism", and that no matter how much one loved Africa or Africans, one cannot "become" African (like the driver tried to do): one must BE African.
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10/10
Not for everybody.
Artthere30 April 1999
I loved this film because in my mind it seemed to so perfectly capture what I imagined life in French colonial Africa must have been like in the 50's ("my" generation anyway). But I was truly enraptured by its quiet pacing and by the glorious ending. Within the last 5 minutes of this film, you must focus intently on what's happening. Never have I been more impressed with the "wrap-up" of a film. I remember yelling "wow!" when I realized it was over. On the other hand, my two daughters fell asleep on the couch!!
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7/10
intriguing colonial allegory
mjneu5910 November 2010
Elusive, introspective memories of a childhood in colonial Africa are recalled through the eyes of a self-possessed young girl with the telltale name France. In her calm, observant demeanor she is, herself, almost African, and likewise the film is beautiful and aloof in a way that speaks volumes with a minimum of words. Nothing is ever made explicit, least of all the suppressed attraction between France's young mother, left in charge of a remote homestead while her husband is away on business, and the handsome native houseboy who suffers his servitude with a proud but uneasy forbearance. Writer director Claire Denis shows a strong affinity for the landscapes and people of her adopted continent, maintaining a beguiling ambiguity about who exactly has the upper hand: the French masters or the passive, patient native servants.
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7/10
an enigma, just like its characters
westpenn4926 July 2001
In reflecting on this movie I can think of two others to help put it in perspective. One relatively forgettable but covering the same geography, is Coup de Torchon, the other thousands of miles away and much larger in scope is the unforgettable Indochine. Claire Denis has produced a movie that has some of the grand underpinnings of Indochine, the complex and unspoken relationship between France and her colonial subjects.

I was struck with the dignity of Potee, with his struggle to maintain his dignity among his peers and with his white bosses. I was also struck with the love/hate relationship between him and Aimee. It is the latter that gives the film its driving force, it is the latter that links this movie to Indochine.

One never is sure what motivates everyone, though some of the characters are required of a remembrance of colonialism. It is this cynical side of the story that ties it to Coup de Torchon. Theirs is the more scandalous story, perhaps even more interesting in a depraved way, but Denis gives us a remembrance of how it was with all the tension and unresolved relationships.

The American black who gives the grown up France a ride in the beginning and end of the movie offers yet another interesting side to the confusion that we in the Western world have when we look at Africa. He says that when he came he wanted to call everyone brother. He was coming home, but they just thought him to be a little daft. France, the character and the girl, grew up in Cameroon, but neither fully understands what it is even though they can remember how it was.
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7/10
Very good but it's still missing something...
MartinHafer10 July 2007
Warning: Spoilers
This is an amazing film to watch or show young people. Aside from a very brief nude scene, it gives an interesting glimpse into colonial rule in Africa that you'll rarely find in other films. It does bear a superficial similarity to OUT OF Africa, but without all the romantic fluff. The White French people in Cameroon are fascinating because they don't even seem to regard the natives as people. The Whites are all the bosses and they expect Black servitude without question. However, unlike real servants, you only once hear any of the Whites say 'thank you' and no other regard is given these people. Again and again, it's like they are pets or slaves, as the feelings of the people are never even considered.

The central illustration of this thoughtlessness is the relationship between the mother, Aimée and her servant, Protée. Although at times they spend a lot of time together and it is only normal that they might begin to have sexual feelings towards each other, the White woman never considers Protée or the existence of his feelings. A good example of this thoughtlessness is when she has Protée lace up her dress and it's obvious that he is very sexually frustrated by this. Apart from this relationship, while almost all the Whites are completely oblivious to the fact that the Africans are people, a few go so far as to verbally abuse and treat them like garbage.

Also interesting is the relationship between Protée and the little girl (who is the one who is grown at the beginning and end of the film). While they are very close, at times he's more like a plaything or pet and the girl never plays with native children.

There is one bizarre White character who seems, at times, to regard the Blacks better but unfortunately his character is very inconsistent and confusing. One moment, he's doing hard work along side the Blacks or eating with them (something the other Whites would never have done) and the next he's trying to beat up Protée! I could only guess as to what motivated him--perhaps he was just a jerk, or was crazy or perhaps was a Communist agitator trying to stir up the Blacks against the Whites (who knows!). In fact, other than a few good scenes, this character seems pretty much wasted.

While I really enjoyed the insight this movie gave, I wish it had instead been more than just a few snippets of this world through the perspective of a child during one small period of her life. The context and what happened to rid the country of colonialism is never addressed and the film left me wanting more. The film appeared to begin in the early 1980s (since she's wearing a Walkman-style headset) and when the film went back in time, it seems that it was set about 1960 (more or less), but there was never any mention of the 1950s anti-colonialism violence or independence for the nation in the early 1960s. I am guessing that some of this confusion might be that the makers of the film screwed up and SHOULD have made the beginning of the film earlier (such as the 1970s) and had the lady think back to her life there in the early 1950s--before the country experienced political change.

Apart from the missing context and a confusion over time periods, using the prologue and epilogue that showed her as an adult traveling the country was a good idea. And I also appreciated the ending, as it was a pleasant surprise when you find out more about the nice man who offers her a ride. But overall, it just feels like something is missing--there just isn't any sort of resolution or message other than showing that colonialism is thoughtless and cruel.
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8/10
Beautiful but frustrating...
nudaydreamer17 May 2002
Claire Denis's Chocolat is a beautiful but frustrating film. The film presents a very interesting look at the household of a European colonial family living in Cameroon, giving the viewer an informative perspective on the lives of many characters and their interaction. However, the development of these characters is often maddeningly insufficient. For example, a central theme in the story is young France's inability to form strong relationships with others. Although this portrayal is executed flawlessly, notably in the way that Denis frames the story with scenes from France's return to her childhood home, the girl's lack of intimacy with the film's other characters makes it difficult for a viewer to invest much interest in her development (or lack thereof) as a protagonist. The general stagnation of the film's character development makes it difficult to become engaged in the loosely organized plot. The film raises a great deal of tension between characters, particularly between Aimee and the men in her life, but never fully addresses this social friction, leaving the viewer unsatisfied. The final few scenes are powerful but depressing. Denis's work is certainly interesting from an intellectual and historical standpoint, but if you are looking for a film with adventure or drama, Chocolat is definitely not the best choice.
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8/10
Sometimes getting what you want isn't always best for you.
norman-42-84375824 April 2012
Warning: Spoilers
This is a film ostensibly about a young woman's quest to revisit the land of her childhood experiences. It deals more however with the complex relationship between her, her mother and the black house boy who is used at various times as a servant; a substitute father and substitute man of the house when her father is away doing administrative governmental work in other areas of the country.

As a child, the girl had difficulty making relationships with her peers and there is a restrained attraction between the mother, Aimee and Proteé, the house boy. Suppose a sexual relationship had developed between Aimee and Proteé, what then? The simmering tension is removed to be replaced by what? Clearly Aimee is not going to kick her husband out and set up house with Proteé and where would that leave him? To remain a servant and be picked up and put down, as the 'Lady Boss' saw fit. He would be in a worse position than before but without his dignity. In a situation where a hierarchy exists then sometimes it is better to not have what you want. The obvious answer is to get rid of the hierarchy which is what the end of colonialism was in theory moving towards but this also removes the family's reason for being there anyway. A telling scene not mentioned by others is when Aimee makes a subtle play for Proteé whilst he is drawing the curtains at the end of the day. Without saying a single word he brings her out of her reverie and leaves her in no doubt as to the nature of their relationship. Because she leads an unfulfilled existence she accuses her husband of being 'too nice' when in fact he has done nothing wrong.

The film ends with the clear conclusion that whether they are subjugated or not, westerners are definitely the black mans burden and it doesn't matter on the colour of your skin; whether theirs is the only culture you have ever known or how much you empathize with them, if you are not black and born there you are never going to be one of them. A distinct example of inverse multiculturalism.

In the final scene where the airport baggage handlers get caught in a tropical storm, it would have been nice if they had actually got wet. But, hey, life is not always about getting what you want.
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10/10
Very emotional in a flowing manner, cruel and revealing.
suling12 November 2002
I don't know what the previous reviewer was watching but I guess that's what reviews are, personal taste. Missed in this movie was the depth, a very deep film, many layers of emotion, affecting. Undercurrents of withheld love because of submission to societal beliefs, taboos of the times and classes, race relations not being in a very good state of equality, guilt, yearning, hate, confusion, very dark emotionally I thought, under the skin, you have to submit to the aire of it, a flowing movie, not slow as stated before, release yourself to the flow of the film, the emotions will show themselves, characters reveal their flaws, their nasty insides, excellent and actually very cruel!
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meditative and insightful
tsimshotsui19 April 2017
Despite needing something more for me in its wrap-up, Claire Denis' Chocolat is in all ways a really good look into Cameroon and France's colonial history. Unlike the case of some films made in the US, it doesn't hammer the audience with a message about white people's ugliness, instead it just carefully shows them, and sort of leaves the audience the responsibility to observe and be horrified. It's amazing how a narrative like this with a white lead is so carefully handled that it doesn't make excuses for that privilege, and doesn't paint her as an exception or, a favorite Hollywood trope, the white savior. Isaach De Bankolé is also key here. When his character cracks it's not obvious why he does, but it's in the little expressions and reactions to the things he hears and witnesses that should explain it.
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6/10
Nothing new, but a pleasantly relaxing viewing experience
AlexLovesKissing5 March 2006
In Denis' debut film, she explores the social dynamics of a French household during the closing days of colonial rule in West Africa. The bulk of the film is seemingly the flashback of a young adult French woman returning to her childhood African home after living abroad - though this perspective doesn't entirely hold during certain scenes. As an American moviegoer - and thus quite familiar with the baggage of colonial rule - I wasn't surprised by any of the themes suggested/addressed by this picture: second class citizenship, interracial lust, varying degrees of loathing of the colonists toward the ruled, the inescapable resentment that the ruled have towards the colonists. Consequently, I found the film less than compelling. Though competently told, the story shed no new light the complexities of colonial rule - the suggestion that the problems of colonial rule are visible in the microcosm of a household as in the macrocosm of a revolution is nothing new. However, these politics were handled in a minimalist fashion that gave the movie a relaxed if occasionally boring pacing - a pacing that was bearable thanks to DP Robert Alazraki beautifully capturing Cameroon's landscape. I quietly recommend this movie if no other reason than the fact that it is the first film from a major new French auteur.
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9/10
A visually striking, very human film
rrdaniel23 November 2006
This movie is all about subtlety and the difficulty of navigating the ever-shifting limits of mores, race relations and desire. Granted, it is not a movie for everyone. There are no car chases, no buildings exploding, no murders. The drama lies in the tension suggested by glances, minimal gestures, spatial boundaries, lighting and things left -- sometimes very ostensibly -- unsaid. It's about identity, memory, community, belonging. The different parts of the movie work together to reinforce the leitmotifs of self and other, identity, desire, limits and loss. It will reward the attentive and sensitive viewer. It will displease those whose palates require explosive, massive, spicy action. It is a beautifully filmed human story. That is all.
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10/10
a reel insight
brendan_law22 March 2005
Claire Denis' debut is both a brave and self-assured one. In this depiction of life towards the end of French colonialist Cameroon, she explores the relationships between men and women, black and white.

With the black servant 'Protée' as the film's primary object of desire and oppression, the film enters taboo territory from the beginning. Denis builds a picture of life through a series of character relationships that keep the informed viewer fixed to the screen. The mood of the film is captured perfectly by the camera-work and (lack of) lighting.

A great discourse.
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8/10
Impression of a different world
dbaron-213 April 2005
This movie shows life in northern Cameroon from the perspective of a young French girl, France Dalens, whose father is an official for the colonial (French) government, and whose family is one of the few white families around. It gives a sense of what life was like both for the colonists and for the natives with whom they associated. It's a sense consistent with another movie I've seen about Africa in a similar time period (Nirgendwo in Afrika (2001)), but I have no way of knowing how realistic or typical it is. It's not just an impression -- things do happen in the movie -- but the plot is understated. The viewer is left to draw his own conclusions rather than having the filmmakers' forced upon him, although the framing of the story as a flashback from the woman's visit to south-western Cameroon as an adult provides some perspective.
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Not an easy film to understand
Rytzalot7 October 1999
Chocolat opens as one thing and only when it's ended do you realize that it was something else. I was expecting a film about a woman and her conflict with her childhood. But this film is really the story of her mother. Beautiful, film, but tricky, and very French, contrary to it's financing. Highly recommended.
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1/10
Waste of time and rental!
danteism8 November 2005
I am astounded at the positive reviews for this thoroughly uninspiring film.

Often with foreign films I skip over reviews that complain about slow pace and seeming "absence of action" as many of the best international films do not live up to the Western Hollywood model of cinematic storytelling.

I enjoy the frequent artfulness and lack of cliché in the foreign film arena. I enjoy that many foreign films don't tie things up in a neat palatable little bow.

That said, this particular film offered no redemptive value for the time I wasted watching it. No meaningful character development, no engaging story arc, no way to get emotionally involved with any of the characters on screen.

Synopsis: A bunch of emotionally immature uptight prejudiced colonials mistreat their slaves, and a little girl gets hurt by her only friend when the "house-boy" finally gets fed up and takes his abuse out on her.

While the above paragraph is poignant and dramatic, this movie will bore you while playing out the scenario. I was so unengaged that it took three sittings to finish it, and I wouldn't have even done that were it not for the positive ratings.

Unless you have an academic interest in the period I strongly suggest steering clear of this one.
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1/10
Desire in Transit
goebels995 June 2005
The film portrays France's unresolved problems with its colonial legacy in Western (Francophone) Africa through the befuddled and complex psychoanalytical prism of a young woman, France (herein symbolically representing her nation). It is an often engaging and challenging portrait of a young woman's desire to come to terms with a traumatic moment in her past, in particular, and a nation's desire to reach out to the 'other' it once 'owned' and moulded. This is reflected in the way in which it centres entirely around the notion of travelling (or being in transit) from the present to the past; remembered realities to undeniable contemporary political and economic actualities.

The characters all play a symbolic, albeit a limited and unconvincing role. France, meant to be a visual as well as a totemic representation of contemporary French society, leaves one indifferent to her plight as she seems still to be imbued with the same naiveté she enjoyed as a child-in fact as a child she seems more in possession of her reality. The rest of the rag-tag ensemble is just forgettable. The black Africans are, to say the least, offencive impressionistic portraits of former colonised peoples now colonised by the director's poor handling of her material. They are no more than a dark and moribund backdrop against which the blythe-like France wonders seeking a world she never knew, and hoping for one that can never be found in Cameroon.
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3/10
This is a boring movie.
Hunky Stud28 July 2000
Some good movies keep you in front of the TV, and you are dying to see the result.

This movie does not have highs and lows. It simply describes a young girl's family life in Africa. People come and go, the weather and the background are all the same.
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1/10
Just like South Park without the intelligence and bold statements
krywolff9 August 2005
I am very open to foreign films and like to think that I grasp what they are trying to accomplish although some things are lost in translation. But the simplicity and "intelligence" of this film were boring. I've often thought how interesting it would be to make a movie that just shows a typical day or time period that really had no point. Now that I've seen a movie like that I will no longer be thinking along those lines. There's tones about society, racism, and some desire...but South Park has that. And when I watch South Park it actually moves me to feel an emotion. The closest thing I felt to an emotion during this movie was the yawn I experienced after the first five minutes. I rate the typical movie a seven or above because I love most every film. I gave this film a one.
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6/10
No Sex + No Nudity = No Passion
caspian197824 November 2003
The box cover read nothing but how this film was full of passion and erotic over tones. Over tones? There weren't any Under tones let alone over tones! Yes, the story has obvious moments of forbidden passion between the French woman and the "black" slave / servant, but nothing goes beyond that.

The entire movies leads up to expectations and then goes nowhere. If you look close, you can see moments of symbolism, but nothing terrific. Chocolat isn't French New Wave, but it is a french film. Besides there being a number of French characters in the film that nobody can relate with, you got a French Housewife that has nothing else to do but order her "slave" around. I said it before and I'll say it again, Chocolat has as much passion that your average funeral does. Whether for 1988 or 2004, you need moments of sexual tension other than a simple touch to be considered exotic for the audience.
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8/10
The closer you get to that line, the further it moves.
lastliberal11 May 2009
The story is about a little girl growing up in colonial Africa, but it is so much more than that.

Anyone growing up in the South would experience the same things. A longing for another, one of a different race, that cannot be consummated. Even a glance is forbidden. There are no words needed. Their facial expressions say everything.

It is the story of a black servant, Protée (Isaach De Bankolé) and a white woman, Aimée (Giulia Boschi). Their desire for each other is so strong that they torture each other because they cannot have each other.

The little girl, France (Cécile Ducasse) is lonely and spends all her time with Protée. She really can't see this dance.

One of the more irritating aspects of the film is the laziness of the colonials. They cannot even get undressed for bed by themselves. There world is about to end; they just don't know it yet. Their racist attitudes will be erased with their presence.

I think I would like to visit this Africa. It seems so quiet; especially at night when you only hear the animals.
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