Chocolat is one of the finest films I have ever experienced. I remember well the warm feeling in my soul as I walked out of the theater after first viewing this film on the big screen on a beautiful summer night in 2001.The rich cinematography loses something to small screen video viewing, but I think that is the case with most films.
Binoche is captivating as Vianne, who with her young daughter Anouk arrives in a quaint French village and opens a chocolate shop. As the story develops, we come to understand that Vianne has spent much of her adult life on the move. What is she running from? Herself perhaps?
Johnny Depp has created many memorable characters in his storied career as an actor. His portrayal of Roux, the romantic hero in Chocolat, is one of my favorite. He is charming and funny and vulnerable all at once.
Vianne and Roux are outsiders to the staid traditions and mores of the small country village. Vianne incurs the wrath of the outwardly pious mayor (Molina) by keeping her shop open on Sunday. Roux is a gypsy waterman who along with his crew of “riverrats” are scorned and harassed by the townspeople. The chemistry between these wonderful actors and characters is visceral.
Judi Dench is brilliantly understated as an aging widow and grandmother who find solace and reprieve from her overprotective daughter (Moss). Lena Olin shows us her emotional range as an abused housewife who finds her own strength.
Like most great stories, Chocolat carries themes that are both simple and universal. It is a story of self-discovery and a story of women finding their way in the midst of cultural repression. It is a tale of romance and adventure and an examination of religious and ethnic prejudice and intolerance. It is a comedy and love story as sweet as the chocolate delicacies that are made by the beautiful women of Vianne’s kitchen.