A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 351 – Chocolat

Chocolat – February 14th, 2011

This morning when I work up, after Andy had left for work, there was a box of chocolates sitting next to me. While Valentine’s Day has never been a huge deal to me, it is a nice excuse to have some chocolate and so this movie seemed like it would be a nice match to the holiday. It had chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate, plus a little romance and a little sensuality and a little sweetness. It all seemed like a good plan and I’m glad we went with it.

There seems to be a certain subset of movies that involve a stranger waltzing into town to shake up the status quo and fix all ills with whimsy and a force of will. Andy mentioned to me that he felt this movie had a lot in common with To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar, and he’s right. I suspect we could make a nice little niche film about a group of drag queens who open a chocolate store and dispense snappy advice and bon bons. I’ll get right on that. But really, he’s right. In this movie the daring and idiosyncratic Vianne and her daughter, Anouk, arrive a small and somewhat insular town in France. They come bearing chocolate and a well-traveled backstory involving ancient cocoa-based remedies for all, but the town is ruled over by the stuffy Comte de Reynaud and it is Lent.

Undeterred by both religion and social stigma, Vianne sets up shop and begins to entice the townspeople inside, promising them their favorites and delivering with pinpoint accuracy. Couples rediscover each other, spirits are lifted and lives are changed, all through not just the power of chocolate, but through the kind words and compassion of someone seeing the village from the outside. Vianne isn’t looking at things as they always have been and how they must be. She’s new to the town. She’s relatively unfettered and more than willing to share that with the people she befriends. And of course, to those in power (the Comte, in particular), that’s a challenge. How dare she! Of course they’re going to butt heads and of course it’s going to come to a rather dangerous head eventually.

On the surface, it’s a movie about chocolate and people becoming happier through candy. But marring that surface is a deeper story involving one particular couple, the Muscats. Serge is a mean and bitter man who beats his wife, Josephine. In turn, Josephine has become a bit of a social pariah in the village and has developed a nasty kleptomania habit in reaction. This is where the more serious heart of the movie rests. Because in helping Josephine and uncovering the truth of Serge’s cruelty, Vianne exposes the Comte to a truth he doesn’t want to see. He truly wants his village to be a good one, full of good people, and here is someone doing something horribly wrong and he didn’t bother to find out it was going on. He was blind to it. The struggle between the Comte and Vianne through Serge and Josephine is truly important to the whole movie and its message. Through unthinking and hate-filled words, the Comte encourages Serge to do something horrible. Something in him ignored the possibility that spurring a vengeful and hateful man to action could possibly have grave consequences. It’s a lesson I wish more people could learn before something dire comes of it.

Vianne’s presence in the village brings about a new life for its people. She brings people closer together, like her landlady, Armande and Armande’s grandson, Luc. She welcomes the boat-dwelling travelers who dock at the village and are spurned by the Comte and his fellows. She builds a life there without realizing it and when it comes time to leave – or so she thinks – the people she’s touched in turn touch her. Predictable, sure, but not in a bad way. In fact, even though I could tell every direction this movie would turn, I wasn’t once disappointed by it. I loved Vianne, with her chocolate and her passion and her care and her steadfast belief in herself. She doesn’t know the father of her daughter. She doesn’t go to church. She doesn’t wear black shoes or plain dresses. And even at the end of the movie, when she ostensibly settles down, she is still herself, red shoes and atheism firmly in place. Juliette Binoche became my hero for the length of this movie for her unwavering performance of such a strong character.

There are some wonderful performances here aside from Binoche. Judi Dench plays the wonderfully feisty Armande and oh, I will be her when I am seventy, I promise. Lena Olin has a wonderful character arc as Josephine, growing into an independent woman who doesn’t have to take crap from anyone. And Alfred Molina is bizarrely sympathetic as the Comte. Of course, there’s also Johnny Depp, appearing like an Irish Jack Sparrow in the middle of Vianne’s Chocolate Factory, but, well. He’s really just playing Johnny Depp: Romantic rogue. Not that I have any complaints! He’s just not transformed in the role.

It was a beautiful movie, full of lovely moments and sweet and heartfelt messages of compassion and community and believing in yourself. We made rich and spicy hot chocolate after the movie was over and really, I dare anyone to watch this movie and not end it hungering for something made from cocoa. And it was a movie that gave me the sort of female character I dream of. For that, even more than the chocolate, I loved it.


February 14, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,

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