One taste is all it takes in CHOCOLAT (2000)

Cast
Juliette Binoche as Vianne
Victoire Thivisol as Anouk
Johnny Depp as Roux
Hugh O’Conor as Pere Henri
Lena Olin as Josephine
Peter Stormare as Serge
Judi Dench as Armande

Directed by
Lasse Hallstrom

Written by
Robert Nelson Jacobs

Based On The Novel by
Joanne Harris

Genres:
Comedy, Drama, Foreign, Romance

121 minutes

Vianne (Binoche) comes from a long line of wanderers, spreading the good word and the good chocolate, with her daughter Anouk (Victoire Thivisol) in tow. She just so happens to have wandered into a sleepy little French town circa 1959. She rents a shop and begins to get ready to open her confectionary shoppe for the benefit of the entire burg–but she’s doing all of this right before Lent, which doesn’t sit well with the town’s mayor (Molina). Before long, the battle lines are drawn: the establishment versus the iconoclastic chocoholics. Who will win? Three guesses.

[ad#longpost]You know, for the longest time, try as I might, I couldn’t find any fault with this film. Of course, I couldn’t find anything really great to say about it either. Until I realized that the film is simply Footloose, just trade Binoche for Bacon and chocolate for dancing. Oh sure, there’s other details, but this film is just another neophilic feelgood fest. Not that there’s anything wrong with those on the surface. But when everything’s just on the surface–then you have a problem.

Which is honestly surprising, considering the depth of the talent this cast brings to the table. Not that they phone in their performances, but honestly–with a script and premise this fluffy, there’s only so much you can do. The standouts among the cast are Dench, playing a crotchety old widow separated from her daughter and grandson, and Depp, as a gypsy who plays guitar.

 

But then again, they’d be good in commercials for pine floor cleaner. But the trouble is, they’re all playing the same characters we’ve seen time and time again: The Abusive Husband (Peter Stormare), The Misunderstood Local Crackpot (Olin), and The Mean Authority Figure With Something to Compensate For (Molina). That’s all well and good if that’s all you’re aiming for, but this film feels to me like it was supposed to Mean Something–and maybe it does, but I just couldn’t get into it.

I can’t go into how the plot stays as vanilla as can be without ruining what little surprise there is to be had in the film. But even with the fairytale feel of the opening, the resolution of conflict in the film feels too pat. The trouble is honestly they should have saved some of that cayenne they were using in their cocoa and sprinkled it on the script instead.

The film does a good job ratcheting up the tension as the forces align against Vianne, culminating with a visit from a group of Irish gypsies which includes Depp’s character Roux. Watching Depp’s performance was bit cringe-worthy for me, not in the acting per se, but rather his accent. The Irish accent sounds somehow mangled to me and in retrospect like a bad parody of Depp’s later character Capt. Jack Sparrow. The chemistry between the two actors (Binoche and Depp) is good and the smouldering attraction between the two characters is well done.

I remember the film when it was first released being talked about as one of those “hot” Johnny Depp movies, which seemed strange to me at the time. I’d never thought of him as sex symbol, and frankly most of the roles I had seen him in up to that point where not traditional “sexy” roles (Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas). After watching this movie, a light suddenly went on and I could see what the women were talking about.


Depp’s role, while relatively small in the context of the film, is pivotal. The carefree and almost hedonistic nature of the gypsies is too much for the village to take and the town turns on them. Without giving too much away, there are a number of characters whose lives begin to unravel as they must come to terms with the choices and relationships they have built for themselves.

There are so many great characters and actors in the story. There’s Judi Dench as the ailing matriarch who is being kept from her grandson by the boy’s mother played by Carrie-Anne Moss. There’s the young parish priest, played by Hugh O’Conor who’s own lust for life is being stifled by the Church and the community’s demands of him. There’s also Vianne’s daughter Anouk and the toll the lifestyle they have chosen is having on her coming of age. The movie held up watching it 10+ years later and despite Depp’s accent it’s worth a look.

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