Next up is Lasse Hallström’s other Best Picture contender but this time it didn’t garner him a Best Director nod.The film was Chocolat; another movie based on a popular novel this time one by Joanne Harris. Although sharing The Cider House Rules’ cinematographic flair, I thought that Chocolat had more substance than Hallström’s previous effort.
The film starred Juliette Binoche as Vianne, a lively woman who rocks up in a quiet French village alongside her young daughter Anouk. The village that she arrives in is extremely Catholic and is ruled over by the mayor; Comte De Raymond, an incredibly biased figure who has the majority of the townsfolk under his spell. The Comte and Vianne clash almost immediately when he discovers she is opening a chocolate shop during Lent. The film’s main focus is then on the feud between the two as the Comte does everything he can to close down her shop. At the same time we see the effect that Vianne’s presence has on the other villagers, including brow-beaten Josephine and eccentric landlady Armande. Though her confectionery awakens passions in others it’s not till later in the film that Vianne’s own passions are awakened. This happens when she lays eyes on Roux; a river traveller whose presence in the village is more unwelcome than Vianne’s. There is an incredibly connection between the pair however Vianne later feels she’s put her daughter in trouble as a result of her dalliance with the handsome Roux. The final scenes of the film effortlessly balance comedy and tragedy with some memorable moments being provided before the end credits roll.
I think the reason I enjoyed Chocolat a lot more than I did The Cider House Rules was due to the fact that the former film was a lot more focused than the latter. The film had a clear purpose and looked at a specific time frame; that being the season of Lent as the Comte threatened to put Vianne out of business before Easter. Hallström again focuses on the exterior shots as the French village comes to life in all of its glory thanks in part to cinematographer Roger Pratt. Chocolat’s utterly charming nature is enhanced by Rachel Portman’s memorable score whilst the quirky characters are made more recognisable by their distinctive costumes. But what makes Chocolat really come alive is its ensemble cast; four of whom gave tremendous performances. Juliette Binoche was an utter delight in the lead role and perfectly conveyed both Vianne’s wicked side with her more vulnerable nature. Binoche was nominated for a prize at that year’s Oscars, as was Judi Dench who chewed some considerable scenery as diabetic landlady Armande. The fabulous Alfred Molina gave a measured turn as the film’s antagonist Comte de Raymond and I thought he particularly excelled during his character’s breakdown in the window of Vianne’s shop. Similarly impressive was Lena Olin who, as battered wife Josephine, went on the biggest journey from shrewish housewife to independent woman. If there’s a weak link in the cast then it’s Johnny Depp, however I feel that this is primarily due to the fact that his character is given much to do. However, Depp and Binoche share a fine chemistry which makes Roux and Vianne’s relationship all the more believable. Obviously the other plus point to watching Chocolat is the fine selection of confectionery that is on display throughout the movie so my one piece of advice would be not to watch this on an empty stomach. Whilst Chocolat isn’t a particularly original film, it’s certainly an enjoyable bit of escapism and I felt that Hallström deserved his Best Director nod much more for this film than he did The Cider House Rules.