This is a nice enjoyable little film. The story
doesn't matter so much. This movie has been made many times before from
Music Man to Footloose
where the arrival in a small town of an outsider with new ideas causes
a furor as the town first resists change and then finally accepts it.
In Chocolat, the small town is in France and the outsider is a woman
(Juliette Binoche) who with her young daughter (Victoire Thivisol) arrives
and opens a Chocolate Shop. There are a lot of parallels with
Like Water For Chocolate where a Mexican woman finds that she can affect
people's moods with her cooking. Here, Binoche can guess which kind
of chocolate is perfect for and irresistible to each person in town.
This creates stress since it is Lent and everyone in town is under the
thumb of the very conservative mayor (Alfred Molina) who sees the shop
as the thin edge of the wedge. The townspeople are caught in the
middle. The cast of characters in the town is a very impressive group of
actors including Judi Dench, John Wood, Lena Olin, Peter Stormare, Carrie-Anne
Moss and Leslie Caron. That's right, the Leslie Caron, and she looks good
too! The tension in town is brought to a head when some drifters
come to town. They are led by a very cute looking non-conformist
(Johnny Depp) who immediately falls for Binoche and becomes public enemy
number one for Molina. There are various other subplots in which
Binoche uses the power of chocolate to improve the lives of the townspeople.
The abused wife (Olin) of the cafe owner (Stormare) leaves him and moves
into the shop. A grandmother (Dench) who is estranged from
her daughter (Moss) gets to have quality time with her grandson (Aurelien
Parent-Koening) while drinking hot chocolate. You get the idea. The
cast, except for Depp, are all meant to be french and so most speak with
some version of a french accent. Even Binoche who is from Paris had
a dialect coach listed in the credits! Depp speaks with a weird irish accent.
Binoche is perfect for this role of the somewhat mysterious chocolate maker
and she and Depp are good together. Dench gives a nice muted performance
as the grandmother, as does Olin as the battered wife. Both kids,
Binoche's daughter and Dench's grandson are good too. Moss doesn't
get to do much as the uptight daughter of Dench except look worried.
Molina's character is the most cartoon-like but he makes the most of it.
This film is directed by Lasse Halstrom whose last film, The
Cider House Rules was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars last
year. As I said, the plot of Chocolat is all a bit familiar.
But the cast is great and there is a nice warm feeling exuding from this
film much like you'd feel if you were eating a bit of chocolate yourself.