One cold, blustery day a brisk wind not only brought a sudden chill but the sly North wind ushered two figures cloaked in red into the small French village that believed in tranquility and the “proper” way of seeing things done. Anything that upsets their peaceful way of doing things is frowned upon by the town’s mayor, the Count de Reynaud (Alfred Molina) and someone is always quick to put one back into their place should they mess up. When single mother Vianne (Juliette Binoche) and her six-year-old daughter (Victoire Thivisol) appear on the scene, it doesn’t take long for her to create a stir. Coming from a mother who moved with the wind whenever she felt restless, Vianne has done much the same with her own daughter – and is found out to never have been married. Renting a small shop and its above stairs apartment from a bitter woman (Judi Dench), Vianne sets to work at her trade and opening a decedent chocolate shop. Much to the horror of the village she does so during the period of lent. Not a church-going woman, Vianne manages staying power in a village clearly anxious for her dismissal, but she connects with many of the people in spite of the mayors best efforts.
When summer comes gypsies also appear in the small town, yet another source of discomfort for the people. Since they remain on the river, they cannot be legally driven out, but citizens do start a petition to ban them from their shops while Vianne tosses care to the wind and befriends them to further annoy her fellow prudish villagers. But when she allows Roux (Johnny Depp) in particular to do work for her, life is further complicated.
As typical historical dramas go, this one is unusual and the best part about that is, it isn’t afraid of standing out. Some eleven years later, this is still one of the most captivating movies I’ve seen. It unfolds to its own unique flavor and is actually successful doing so. Vianne was judged for the way she chooses to live her life, but yet all around her were people who were not above reproach. One man stands up against impropriety yet he isn’t willing to come clean about both he and his wife’s faults and under his watch, there are many immoral situations. After my last viewing, I was struck with how thought-provoking the young cleric’s sermon was. During one of the mayor’s weakest moments he was tempted and found out which in turn inspires the young man to take back his “free speech” rights by preaching a homily that is wholly his own reflections, and not pre-approved (to coin a phrase). In it he encourages his parishioners not to measure our goodness by what we may deny ourselves but rather by what we *embrace,* what we create, and who we include. It is preceded by his questioning how Jesus Christ lived here on earth and not just His ultimate death on the cross but by His *humility* -- that He was a man and lived as one.
The tiny village was in reality threatened by what Vianne stood for and the change she could bring to their orderly lives. Instead of insisting that she was right in her points, if another argued her opinion, she humbly conceded claiming they must be right and she wrong. She wasn’t in the town to create trouble but rather to help people by letting them come to her in a time of need – she lays the groundwork for open-minded friendship and trusts them to come to her if they should need a friend. Strictly speaking of production values, this is a lovely movie. From the food preparation (incredibly impressive) to the acting, everything was gorgeous. Temptation is all around us in this wicked world, so seeing a movie that takes a normally innocent delicacy (like chocolate) and exploit it to merge into something deeper is a very interesting study. To many such a decedent piece of candy is considered a little piece of “sin,” but really shouldn’t we be more like Vianne and be concerned with the people around us…?
- Read my "editorial" blog: Tempting Fate
(One semi-graphic sex scene is shaded by billowy curtains before a closer shot shows movement and barely avoided upper female nudity. Later it is implied that another couple is intimate. Suggestions imply a man hits his wife and another woman left her husband with no plans to return. Minor suggestive and/or crude remarks are made. Vianne sells a special kind of chocolate meant to arouse a husband’s sexual desires. Uses of da*n and h*ll are sprinkled into dialogue, along with remarks about Vianne being an atheist. Lies are incorporated and a woman has a child out-of-wedlock. Chocolat is rated PG13.)