Chocolat


Directed by: Lasse Hallstrom
Written by:Robert Nelson Jacobs
Starring: Juliette Binoche, Lena Olin, Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, Alfred Molina, Peter Stormare
Released: February 15, 2001
Grade: B+

Steadfast in their ways, there once was small French town whose residents always followed custom.  Then, on a cold winter morning, a young lady and her daughter blew in with the Northern winds.  Renting a shop and residence in the centre of town, the lady refurbished the store and cooked batch after batch of her finest chocolates.  Soon the doors opened on Maya's Chocolaterie. 

The ultimate traditionalist, the town's Mayor saw the new shop as an evil influence.  How dare she open a chocolaterie just in time for lent when townsfolk should be avoiding such pleasures?  Not to worry, she'll be out of business by Easter.  To make sure of it, he’s had a quiet word in the local priest's ear to ensure he preach the importance of abstinence during his sermons.

Slowly however, the residents warmed to the shop and were lured by its sweet delights.  The lady had a knack for picking everyone's favourites and sure enough, they kept coming back for more and more.  To make matters worse for the Mayor, a group of gypsies had arrived and set up camp by the river.  With the town rapidly in the midst of change, the Mayor’s given no choice but to take forceful action.  At a council meeting, he imposed everyone take a "boycott and morality" stance and not serve or talk with any gypsy forcing them away from the town.

Yet there was one lady open to these newcomers - the owner of the chocolaterie and together they became allies against the determined Mayor and his cohorts.  Will the town remain the same forever or will change sweep through it like the cold winter winds?

Based on the seductive novel by Joanne Harris and directed by Lasse Hallstrom (The Cider House Rules), Chocolat is an inherently charming film with a blend of touching drama and giggling comedy.  Having read the book, I was disappointed by the heavy alterations made for the cinematic adaptation with particular emphasis on the ending.

The cast are top-notch.  Apart from Juliette Binoche, brilliant performances were turned in from Judi Dench (as always) and Lena Olin (the wife of Hallstrom).  It's a lavish production filled with great sets, costumes, make-up and another engaging score from composer Rachel Portman.

It is a very nice film but I do not consider it amongst the best of the year.  The reason I make such a statement is that 36 hours prior to seeing Chocolat, it was nominated as one of the five best pictures of the year by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.  The press have been justifiably critical and their comments are true in that the Oscars have become little more than a political and marketing campaign.  An incredible $1.8m was spent on "For Your Consideration" ads for the film in Hollywood's leading publications and I guess that in the end it was worth it for Miramax Pictures which has now had a best picture nominee for nine straight years.  The film will be remembered as one of history's most suspect best picture nominees.

Not one to pass over, Chocolat is a "delicious" fable but don't arrive with high expectations.  Just a little too "sweet" for my appetite.