PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):
Vianne Rocher (Juliette Binoche), an expert chocolatier, drifts across Europe with her daughter Anouk (Victoire Thivisol) . In the winter of 1959, they travel to a tranquil French village that closely adheres to tradition, as led by the village mayor, Comte Paul de Reynaud (Alfred Molina). Vianne opens a Chocolaterie just as the villagers begin observing the forty days of Lent, much to the chagrin of Reynaud. Vianne, who wears more provocative clothing, does not go to church, and has an illegitimate child, does not fit in well with the town’s people, but is nevertheless optimistic about her business. Her friendly and alluring nature begins to win the villagers over one by one, causing Reynaud to openly speak against her for tempting the people during a time of abstinence and self-denial.
One of the first to fall under the spell of Vianne and her confections is Armande (Judi Dench), her elderly, eccentric landlady. Armande laments that her cold, devoutly-pious daughter Caroline (Carrie-Anne Moss) will not let her see her grandson Luc because she is a “bad influence”. Vianne arranges for Luc and his Grandmother to see each other in the chocolaterie, where they develop a close bond. Caroline later reveals to Vianne that her mother is a diabetic, though Armande continues to indulge in the chocolate despite her condition.
Vianne also develops a friendship with a disturbed woman, Josephine (Lena Olin), who is a victim of brutal beatings by her alcoholic husband Serge (Peter Stormare). After a particularly brutal blow to the head, Josephine leaves her husband and moves in with Vianne and Anouk. As she begins to work at the chocolaterie and Vianne teaches her her craft, Josephine becomes a self-confident, changed woman. Under the instruction of Reynaud, Serge seemingly changes into a better man and he asks Josephine to come back to him. Finally happy and fulfilled, Josephine declines. A drunken Serge breaks into the chocolaterie later that night and attempts to attack both women before Josephine, in a moment of empowerment, knocks him out with a skillet.
As the rivalry between Vianne and Reynaud worsens, a band of river gypsies camp out on the outskirts of the village. While most of the town objects to their presence, Vianne embraces them, developing a mutual attraction to the gypsy Roux (Johnny Depp). Together they hold a birthday party for Armande with other village members and gypsies on Roux’s boat. When Caroline sees Luc, who snuck out to go to the party, dancing with her mother, she begins to see how rigid she is with her son and that his grandmother’s influence in his life may not be a bad thing.
After the party Vianne, Josephine, and Anouk all sleep on the boats, where Roux and Vianne make love. Late that night, Serge sets the boat where Josephine and Anouk are sleeping on fire. Both escape unharmed, but Vianne’s faith in the village is shaken. Also that night, Luc returns to his grandmother’s living room to see that she has finally died from complications of diabetes, devastating both him and his mother. After the fire, Roux packs up and leaves with his group, much to Vianne’s sadness.
Deciding she cannot win against Reynaud or the strict traditions of the town, Vianne resolves to move to another place. Just before she does so, she goes into her kitchen to see most of the townspeople, who have come to love her and the way she has changed their lives, making chocolate for a festival Vianne had planned on Easter Sunday. Despite the major change in the town, Reynaud remains staunch in his abstinence from pleasures such as chocolate. On the Saturday evening before Easter, he opens the chocolate display and destroys the various confections with a knife. When a small piece of chocolate lands on his lip, he gives into the seduction and devours the chocolate before collapsing into tears and eventually falling asleep. The next day, Vianne promises not to reveal what happened, and a mutual respect between them is established. Roux returns in the summer to be with her, and despite her constant need for change, Vianne resolves to stay, having found a home for herself and her daughter in the village.
I don’t know too many people who don’t like chocolate…even in this day and age when everything is either bad for you or has to be healthy or else it is bad for you and will automatically make you obese. A while back, there was a little movie called Chocolat thar was one of those films that swept the awards show, yet not many people saw it, mainly because it wasn’t one of those wide releases. I’m finally taking the time to give this a shot, going solely on word of mouth, and nothing else.
So, what did I like.
Decadent delights. If it is in the title, how can you not focus on chocolate at least for a little bit, right? For those of you foodies out there, you get plenty of scenes where the chocolate is the focus. It is almost like the opening scenes of one of those Willy Wonka films, I can’t remember which one, though.
Beauty and talent. I think I have a new celebrity crush…Juliette Binoche. Not only is she hot, but she can act circles around most of this cast, which is comprised of some heavy hitters, such as Alfred Molina and Dame Judi Dench. Shame we don’t see more of her these days, but hey, if you were gonna be remembered for something, then this would be what I would go for. She sort of reminds me, at least in this film, of Carla Gugino.
Touching story. This isn’t the first film to feature a very religious town that starts out hating something just because it is different, only to come around by the end of the flick, but you throw in the gypsy pirates, the relationship between mother and daughter, as well as Judi Dench’s story (and heartbreaking death), you can’t help but be moved.
Light-hearted feel. As heavy as some of the drama is in this film, it doesn’t lose its light-hearted, semi-comedic feel, and that is what I think is the most appealing part of this film.
What didn’t I like.
People’s attitudes. How can a whole town be so full of hatred for something different. I would really like to know. Sure, there were a couple of residents that didn’t fall into that category, but on the whole, this town’s attitudes is an insult and detriment to the human race.
All powerful mayor. How in the blue hell does the mayor have his own statue in the middle of town (unless that’s something they do for the current mayor), have nearly limitless power and influence, and above all, seem to have more power over the church than the pope?!? This guy also seems to have approve the priest’s sermon before he gives them. Who knows what else he has the power to do, and that is quite scary!
All in all, I really did enjoy Chocolat. For some reason, though, I knew I would. I think, though, that just about anyone that watches this will have a good time watching. Yes, there is a lull a little past half way, but nothing too bad. This is one of those films that I have to agree with the critics on. It is great and a must see. So, check it out when you get the chance!
4 1/2 out of 5 stars