"Everything in this movie is just a bit too obvious."
Miramax Films has hit a few speed bumps as of late and despite the good intentions of CHOCOLAT -- a fable about the therapeutic possibilities of chocolate -- it wonít necessarily make for as sweet a return to form as they would like.The time is 1959 and a fictional French village called Lansquenet suffers from a bad case of uptight Catholic piety. They are somewhat governed by a Comte De Reynaud (Alfred Molina) who is presented as the townís patriarchal Snidley Wiplash character. His intentions are to keep everyone on the rigorous path of the straight and narrow.
Then a woman named Vianne (Juliette Binoche) comes along -- seemingly riding the northern wind -- with the intention of setting up a chocolate shop in the remote village. She is a single mother with a strong constitution, a breezy attitude and a gift for making fabulous chocolate deserts that look fashionably decadent and lure people into the shop.
Immediately Vianne and her chocolates represent evil to the Comte who wants the town to stay cloistered from temptation. Because of this, it doesnít take too long to figure out that the town will wake its spirits to the cocoa confections and that a war -- of sorts -- will be on between those who want to maintain the downtrodden traditions of the town and those who espouse the new religion of chocolate.
But, of course, since the chocolate titillates the taste buds, piques curiosity, helps flame long dead passions and awakens the town to its own repressed sins it becomes pretty obvious who will win in the end. Everyone who tastes the savory morsels rejuvenates their spirits and is seemingly transformed not unlike the movie PLEASANTVILLE where everyone changes from monochrome to technicolor.
Vivianneís Chocolate shop (called Chocolaterie Maya) becomes a bar of sorts where some of the locals come to confess as they normally would in church. Still, even though the town is ready for change the Comte isnít, so they must wait. And so must we.
Everything in CHOCOLAT is a little too obvious. The best that can be said is that the performances are all quite good. Binoche gets to play a stronger character than usual, Dame Judi Dench -- as the fussy agnostic dame of the village -- makes every scene sheís in come to life, Carrie Anne Moss plays well against type and Lena Olin does her best work in years.
Johnny Depp plays Roux an Irish river gypsy who is shunned by the town but more than welcomed by Vivianne. Heís really there to serve as the love interest for Vivianne who has a inclination for settling down for a short time and then moving on.
We are lead to believe that she may just pass through but, having seen this type of movie dozens of times, itís not difficult to realize her destiny and that of the town are on the same course.
The cinema of Lasse Hallstrom focuses on oddball characters each of whom have charms despite their quirks. He likes to showcase outsiders who find a way to fit in and become accepted. Itís too bad that the town he creates is fictional beyond belief. Itís supposed to be a French town but it behaves more like an old 19th Century town with puritanical rhetoric usually reserved for English or American towns. All this with the Chocolate shop, which feels very similar to a 1990ís version of Ghiradelli square.The message isnít too bad though. It imagines that chocolate can (and maybe should) supplant religion as a way of bringing people together. A sentiment all the chocolate companies in the world undoubtedly share in secret. The one thing that can be said about CHOCOLAT is that if you enjoy eating chocolate then this movie will stimulate your appetite when its over. -- Matt Langdon