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Vianne (Juliette Binoche)
Josephine (Lena Olin)
Armande (Judi Dench)
Comte de Reynaud (Alfred Molina)
Roux (Johnny Depp)

Directed by Lasse Hallstrom Written by Robert Nelson Jacobs, based on the novel by Joanne Harris

Rated PG-13 for a scene of sensuality and some violence
Running Time: 118 minutes Distributed by Miramax

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Chocolat is a sweet fable of a film that conveys light-hearted humor and drama. The film takes place during 1959, in a small French town that is defined by Comte de Reynaud (Molina). The Comte stands by the town’s old tradition of strong Catholic faith and prosperity. One day a woman named Vianne (Binoche) and her young daughter move into town and open a chocolate shop across the square from the church. The Comte goes into the shop to greet Vianne and learns that she doesn’t go to church and her child is illegitimate. The Comte then concludes that Vianne and her shop are dangerous and unwanted in the peaceful community. However, instead of the townspeople turning away from Vianne, the citizens begin to love the magical touch of her personality and chocolate. Leaving the determined Comte to start a protest against the newcomer and her shop.

Chocolat is a sweet little comedy that’s humor and drama will please most adult audiences.

Robert Nelson Jacobs wrote the script for Chocolat based on Jeanne Harris’ novel. Overall, Jacobs does a good job with adapting the story and not bringing down the main character with too many complications. He makes the skepticism of the Comte and his influence the main conflict for Vianne, followed by a few other personal conflicts from within herself. Like with a lot of novel adapted films, the writer could have easily added some more problems for the character, but he doesn’t. The sequencing flows modestly and the secrets behind the different chocolates stands strong with the character relations. The only real noticeable complaint I had about Chocolat is an explanation as to how Vianne gets all of her chocolate. In the beginning of the film, a man is seen delivering boxes of cocoa beans to her, but no dialogue is given as to where he came from. Vianne does say a lot of the chocolates are from around the world, but where did she get them, especially in 1959.

Lasse Hallstrom once again makes a good little film from his calm direction. Hallstrom follows up his great direction in The Cider House Rules, with good work in Chocolat. Hallstrom uses a lot more complete circular shots in this film than I have ever seen him create. An example is his near 360-degree whirlwind around the town church. Hallstrom does capture the fairy tale type of atmosphere with the chocolate and the characters in the story. He paces his actions with actor revelations and emotions in a very simple manner. Examples are the actors’ delicious enjoyment with the chocolate candies.

Juliette Binoche was well cast in the role of Vianne. She balances her strong performance with instanteous smiles and tears. Johnny Depp also turns in a contributable performance as the outsider Roux, who becomes a close friend of Vianne’s. Lena Olin and Judi Dench will make strong cases for Oscar nominations with their performances as Vianne’s chocolate shop regulars. Olin, who plays the deranged Josephine, delivers her best acting in years with hyper actions and stern emotion. Dench, who I believe is one of the most talented actresses around, reminded me a lot of my grandma as a sometimes grumpy, but loving grandma in this film. I also really loved Alfred Molina in Chocolat. Molina plays the Comte, who is trying to boot Vianne out of town. The actor has bright and tense facial expressions, which contribute to his fantastic, transform acting as the Comte.

Chocolat has a nice moral story of individuality along with light comedy. I don’t know if young filmgoers will catch on to this film like they did with Shakespeare in Love, but who knows. Adults will enjoy this one.

Report Card Grade: B

Beastman’s Movie Reviews
Copyright, 2001 Joseph C. Tucker

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