Its true, Chocolat is a love story. And a very predictable one at that. Beautiful woman with daughter in tote travels to small French village. Woman opens breathtaking chocolaterie and peddles her unique brand of chocolates that do more than just satisfy a craving. Village ostracizes woman for being a radical. Woman slowly begins to change the general way of thinking, one villager at a time. Woman meets gorgeous man, who is also ostracized. Woman and man together further change the villages way of thinking. Disaster. Conflict. Growling stomachs. Its fairly straightforward, and despite its seemingly unique undertones, it still tells the viewer wheres its going 20 paces before it actually gets there. But, its a love story of mammoth proportions; the typical female-male falling in love bullshit plays a minor part in comparison to what its actually peddling. Its a love story about loving life, and everything that comes with it. Its about embracing everything that you can, and taking full enjoyment in everything enjoyable that you encounter. Its about defining happiness and goodness not by what you arent doing, but by what you are. And yes, its about Johnny Depp with a pony tail and a Scottish accent. So what? It happens. We can get past it.
Its a beautiful story complete with beautifully developed characters. Although we rarely see the inside lives of the villagers, we are given the sense that we know them just as well as we know our heroine. Maybe its due to the fact that weve seen them before, they arent atypical of the type of characters we see in any film of this nature. Still, regardless of how played out the characters are, we still have this sense of endearment to them; they are familiar and comfortable, and we are able to focus on the more beautiful and intrinsic aspects of this piece, instead of trying to figure out these complex individuals.
Probably the most notable feature in Chocolat is its brilliant use of color. It almost seems that the story could be told by color alone. The village is painfully brown and gray until this wonderful red-cloaked woman appears; suddenly, green and blue and yellow become so important, they wrap the viewer in their warm, soft undertones, and take us on a ride between pastels and harsh neutrals. It illustrates the subtle power struggle between the villagers and the heroine perfectly; orange and gray have never looked so uncomfortable around each other.
Other technical aspects of this film need not go unnoticed. The lighting is soft and pastel circa Cybil Shepard in "Moonlighting;" it envelopes everything in a warm glow, complementing that fairy tale mystique that is inherent in every minute. The camera work is smooth and graceful through every scene; even the most difficult scenes, such as the raging river fire, or the brash illustration of domestic abuse, retain a smooth quality from the camera, almost as if youre hovering around the drama instead of being shakily placed on the ground.
Cast performances did nothing to take away from the magic of Chocolat; the cast is culturally diverse, all of them bringing different vocal accents into the film, simply adding to the lush quality that is inherent everywhere else. Juliette Binoche is perfect as Vianne, the chocolate perfectionist with a heart of gold, her performance mature, yet whimsical; she plays the adult who is still very much a child. She is very well received among a backing cast of actors such as Lena Olin, Johnny Depp, and Judi Dench, all of whom give us these warm wonderful characters full of mystery and tradition. It is, indeed, cliché to explain these characters as such, but given the nature of the film, it seems only fitting to do so. This film is nothing but pure magic, the most cliché descriptions are the only ones that seem to do it justice. Besides, weve put up with Johnny Depp and his pony tail a tiny bit of very overdone cliché cant hurt anything more than it already has been.
This film is a final confirmation of a few things that I was already suspicious of: A) Going to the theatre to see a film will not ALWAYS be a disappointment, B) Played-out themes and predictable plots are fun sometimes if you can give up the film noir pretension for a few hours, and C) chocolate is the ultimate foodstuff and should be adored and respected accordingly. Having said that, let me warn you; the film, gorgeous and in all its glory, WILL make your stomach turn for a raspberry truffle, or a hunk of dark chocolate. I strongly suggest picking up some Snow Caps at the concession stand, so you can munch away between the sighs and the subtle tears.
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