dir Lasse Hallstrom
scr Robert Nelson Jacobs
with Juliette Binoche, Alfred Molina, Judi Dench, Lena Olin, Johnny Depp, Carrie-Anne Moss, Peter Stormare, Victoire Thivisol, Aurelien Parent Koenig, Hugh O'Conor, John Wood, Leslie Caron
release US 15.Dec.00; UK 2.Mar.00
Miramax 00/US 3 out of 5 stars
Cute and fable-like, Chocolat is an almost infuriatingly likeable film featuring sunny performances from a fine cast, lovely scenery and a sweet story about releasing inhibitions and enjoying life. Vianne (Binoche) roams the French countryside with her daughter (Thivisol), running off whenever things get tough, as they usually do. Their latest "home" is the picture-perfect village of Lansquenet, where Vianne's decadent chocolaterie causes outrage among the conservative, deeply religious villagers--most notably the mayor (Molina) and the young widow Caroline (Moss), who believe that selling chocolate during lent is a mortal sin. But a few people warm to Vianne and her wares, including Caroline's estranged mother (Dench), a woman (Olin) trying to escape her abusive husband (Stormare), and a wandering river-rat (Depp). So we have two camps facing off for battle.

But don't worry. Serious themes like spouse abuse, religious/racial intolerance and political corruption are merely comic themes around which the story floats lightly. And the film is extremely smile-inducing, as every scene drips with charm. The performances are all undemanding and perfectly adequate. Binoche glows as warmly as ever, while Dench, of course, steals the show with her gruff-but-loveable old broad act (virtually the same performance that won her an Oscar for Shakespeare in Love, but with grubbier costumes). And Hallstrom keeps things looking magical and exquisite, including his cast members. Dark edges are merely hinted at, then discounted in favour of a bit of quaint schtick or simplistic moralising (young priest O'Conor's Easter sermon is astonishingly PC for 1950s France!). This makes the film deeply entertaining and mindless ... but it kind of undermines all the serious points it's pretending to make.

[12--adult themes] 11.Jan.01

just one taste is all it takes send your review to Shadows... R E A D E R   R E V I E W S

"After the Golden Globes, I wanted to this this movie. All the commercials say it is sexy and funny, and besides, I like Johnny Depp. This movie starts out like it is telling a fairy tale: Once upon a time ... the north wind brings this small, structured village major change - a free-spirited woman who opens a chocolate store, just in time for Lent. This is a thoroughly enjoyable movie - Judi Dench plays a wonderful part of an older woman who just wants to live her life her way and not in total control, like her daughter wants her to be. I can see why it got its Golden Globe nominations. Go see this movie if you like fairy tales about real people, and want to see a fun/enjoyable movie!" --Laurie T, Minneapolis 30.Jan.01

"I thought this was a perfectly satisfying adaptation of Harris's book, even if there were a few fundimental changes - most noticably the repressed priest becoming a repressed mayor. The setting was beautiful - old, rather crumbling French village being brightened up by a colourful and delectable Juliette Binoche and her heavenly chocolates. I enjoyed her character's perceptiveness and sensitivity. I liked the film's comedic moments (especially the couple with the newly discovered love life!), and I thought that Judi Dench deserved her Oscar nomination. I wondered whether the film was going to make light of such issues as spousal abuse, prejudice, etc - and I think it just erred on the correct side. But the whole thing look rather magical, it was fully of yummy chocolate and an even yummier Johnny Depp who can come and do a spot of carpentry work for me any time." --Jo Caswell, West Sussex 3.Apr.01

2001 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall