Its premise brings two red-cloaked figures into a small, tight-knit village one blustery night whose villagers quickly pass judgment on. The pair is a strong-willed businesswoman named Vianne and her young daughter. Quickly the two set to work opening a shop which delights the women of the small town but angers its town father. In Vianne, they see a threat that could disrupt their “proper” ways of life. Because she doesn’t change her flamboyant lifestyle to appease their set of rules, she is shunned and whispered about behind her back. Irrespective of the considerable weight the mayor carries with him, Vianne still found kindred spirits in a number of people, and it is those relationships that win her some respect – most of the villagers are willing to stand behind her, to encourage her on the good she was doing when circumstances become difficult.
I do not remember a lot about the first time I saw this, but what I do recall with vivid clarity was just how much I fell in love with the unusual but magical fable. It was like a fairy-tale but with a darker, more realistic slant that made it more relatable to audiences. The word “tempt” is often associated with the ancient Biblical story of Satan’s tempting of Eve or Christ’s being asked to forgo His beliefs in favor of sinning. This story isn’t connected to a Christian viewpoint but its parallels cannot be mere coincidence either. Unlike Eve, who knew exactly what she was doing was wrong, Vianne isn’t in the wrong. The film tends to paint a picture of deceit and almost is asking us to believe that maybe she does have a hidden agenda – and she does: helping people. I simply do not buy that her motives were anything but selfless. She was attempting to run a legitimate business, making a life for herself and her daughter in a place that was small enough to feel like “home,” but she was also burdened with helping people. Fortunately for Vianne, her life didn’t “end” because of a staid, older man’s bid to be rid of her, nor was she banished from a perfect world.
Still to this day, this is one of the most captivating stories in cinema. Not only is Vianne judged for the way she chose to live her life, but all around her, the people who were most critical 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. If you were to take a microscope to the villagers in the tiny place, you probably would uncover many flaws in its people. All God expects is for us to do our best and know our hearts at the end of each day – to be able to look at the next with a clear conscious. Recently I sat down to re-watch this and was struck with how thought-provoking the script of the young cleric’s sermon was. During one of the mayor’s weakest moments he was tempted and found out, in turn inspiring the young man to take back his free speech rights by preaching a homily that was entirely his own reflections, and not “pre-approved” (to coin a phrase) by someone. In it he encourages his parishioners not to measure 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.
Chocolate is considered a little, innocent piece of “sin” to a lot of people, especially women. Luckily for me, I inherited my mother’s tendency not to have cravings for sweets, but that does not mean I do not enjoy a piece of candy as much as the next person. Scholars, pastors and every-day Christians who enrich their daily walk through prayer and Bible-reading – or I have no reason to suppose otherwise -- believe as a flawed human, we sin every single day in thought, word and deed. That we cannot “help” ourselves. That poses interesting scenarios. Do you believe that? Do you believe that there isn’t a single person who can survive a length of time without sin? That no one is faultless -- that babies are sinful? My mother is one not among that belief. She finds it ignorant when someone stands in front of a crowd and makes that claim. I wouldn’t want to besmirch anyone who believes that, or seem to be negatively impacting any one person’s personal convictions, because at the end of the day, only God and his child know what is truly in their heart. We were given a free will and with that comes moral obligations -- to chose right vs. wrong, to use our smarts and automatically know the path less taken is usually better. Is it wrong to see something in a store window and think – that dress is gorgeous; and it is on sale today, too! Maybe… but is it a sin? Fortunately, I don’t judge that nor do I believe it to be. Is God going to prohibit us entrance into Heaven because we bought that little black dress when we didn’t exactly need it? Coveting something that is not ours or belongs to someone else and buying a frivolous purchase are two completely different things. Will life go on without that LBD? Or one of those top of the line stereo systems? Yes, of course it will. Nevertheless, there isn’t a lot asked us by God, even though many find it daunting, His requests and commandments are very clear-cut for anyone willing to follow.
So, come on -- be honest, what are your little “guilty pleasures”? Is it a fabulous new pair of shoes (I love shoes!) or perhaps that illusive collector’s edition book? Maybe, an awesome surround-sound system … Or is it as close as your local grocery store in a simple, decedent, rich box of chocolates…?