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62 of 66 found the following review helpful:
A great emotional lift. Oct 02, 2001
By Atheen M. Wilson
Lasse Hallstrom's film version of the Joanne Harris' novel Chocolat is as delightful a confection as were the heroines' chocolate creations themselves. The plot is intricate and intriguing, carrying the viewer through the emotional transformations of each of the main characters. In a sleepy medieval French town where life has assumed a repressive structure that has created an emotionally frozen and empty life for even the most highly placed members of its society, the heroine Vianne and her daughter arrive to set up a chocolate shop. With her wonderfully concocted sweets she manages to liberate some of the denizens of the town, revealing their potential for greater happiness. The story has a sense of myth, fantasy, and fairytale about it that leaves the viewer with a feeling of personal satisfaction.
This is a film full of strong female performers. Judi Dench is especially wonderful as a curmudgeonly elderly woman estranged from her daughter and forbidden to see her grandson. Juliette Binoche does a fine job as the heroine. She is as fragile and seductive as Monroe in some scenes and as forceful and independent as Bacall in others. Lena Olin is wonderful as the abused wife who rises from the confusion and ashes of her own ruined personality like a phoenix under the influence of the heroine.
This is one of the best movies I've seen in a ling while, and I expect to order and read the book upon which it was based--something I rarely do.
112 of 125 found the following review helpful:
A feel good treat that�s better than the book May 04, 2001
By Joseph Haschka
Last year, I reviewed the book CHOCOLAT by Joanne Harris. I'm happy to report that this film adaptation is even better than the print version. And how often can one say that with a straight face?
The film begins with a north wind blowing Vianne (Juliette Binoche) and her daughter Anouk (Victoire Thivisol) into a small French village at the very beginning of Lent, that pre-Easter period of time, which, in the Catholic liturgy, is dedicated to prayer and physical self-denial. It's not a good time for Vianne, an apparent non-Christian, to open up a chocolate shop across the town square from the church. But, she does so anyway, much to the dismay of the village mayor, the Comte de Reynaud (Alfred Molina). Reynaud is puritanically determined to shut the shop down, and Vianne is equally determined to keep it open. An irresistible force meets an immovable object.
CHOCOLAT, both the book and movie, is a whimsical comedy that blossoms as Lent progresses, and Vianne's shop becomes a place of healing and sanctuary for several of the town's troubled residents. Because Vianne's store is seen (by the local Church establishment) as diametrically opposed to the spirit of the season, the story can also be taken as a gentle fable of conflict between Christianity and paganism.
Juliette Binoche is exquisite in her role. (I think I'm in love.) Judi Dench is her usual superb best as Armande, an aged widow deprived of her grandson's company by an over-protective mother, Armande's own daughter (Carrie-Anne Moss). There's also a small role played by Leslie Caron. (Where's she been in recent years?) And Alfred Molina is positively brilliant as the uptight mayor, so dominant that he personally writes the Sunday sermons to be delivered by the local pastor, Fr. Henri, apparently only recently ordained and much in fear of the Comte. Johnny Depp has an engaging role as one member of a band of despised river gypsies just floating through.
One very good reason why CHOCOLAT the film is better than CHOCOLAT the book is the added dimension of visualization which the former imparts to several elements of the storyline, specifically the mysterious wind that blew our heroine into town, Anouk's pet Pantoufle, the delectable chocolates themselves (seductively arrayed in the shop window), and the climax of the conflict between Vianne and the Comte.
CHOCOLAT the film is one that will have the audience leaving the theater feeling good, and maybe wishing for a cup of Vianne's hot chocolate with a pinch of cayenne pepper. I can't recommend this cinematic gem enough.
27 of 28 found the following review helpful:
Melts in Your Mouth, Not in Your Hand Nov 04, 2001
By Bill Fyffe Jr.
Joanne Harris, the writer of the novel, Chocolat, is apparently a confectionery genius, for this story leaves a wonderful taste in your mouth. Although I have not read the novel, the movie is delightfully rich and creamy.
Vianne (Juliette Binoche) is a "chocolatier extraordinaire," having the best chocolate in all of France and possibly the entire world. She and daughter, Anouk, set up shop in a small French village rife with religious zealots led by the mayor, Comte de Reynaud (Alfred Molina), who is intent on keeping the town chocolate-less. It is the timeless game of religious piety versus sincere brotherly love as portrayed in the lead characters.
Vianne seeks to sweeten the lives of the villagers in town with her secret panacea, especially the religious rejects like Armande Voizin (Judi Dench). She is a crusty old woman, the antipathy of her daughter, forbidden to see her own grandson living in town. Moreover, there is an abused wife (Lena Olin), who finds refuge from her husband, not in the church, but in the chocolate shop. And finally, if this is not enough to drive a group of religious fundamentalists insane, there is Roux (Johnny Depp), a member of the River Rats, a nomadic tribe of gypsies, who develops an interest in Vianne. What will become of this little village? Will chocolate win out in the end, or will the town remain a traditional vanilla?
Binoche is sweeter than chocolate in the lead role, and equally impressive is Molina in his role as the mayor. Judi Dench and Lena Olin put in outstanding performances in their supporting roles as well.
This is a movie with substance, dealing with societal issues; and furthermore, showing the power of human kindness and tolerance for those with differing lifestyles. This one melts in your mouth, not in your hand.
20 of 21 found the following review helpful:
A bittersweet tale enhanced by a superb ensemble cast May 12, 2001
By Michael J. Mazza
"Chocolat" tells a fable-like story of a young single mother (played by Juliette Binoche) who, with her young daughter, drifts into a small French village in the mid-20th century. She sets up a chocolate shop, but her efforts to bring some fun to the repressed villagers bring her into conflict with the town's tyrannical mayor (well played by Alfred Molina).
"Chocolat" is beautiful to see and hear. The fanciful sets and the playful score by Rachel Portman enhance the fairy tale atmosphere of the story. Although there are some unsatisfying loose threads in the script, the story as a whole is delightful. And while the film's message--about the importance of tolerance--may be a bit obvious, it's still worth thinking about.
Director Lasse Hallstrom showed his skill at handling a large ensemble cast in "the Cider House Rules," and he does an equally satisfying job here. And what a cast! Juliette Binoche is excellent in the lead role; both elegant and earthy, she is an enthralling screen presence. The great Judi Dench sinks her teeth into a supporting role as a grouchy landlady who has a tender spot for her young grandson. Johnny Depp is charming as Binoche's love interest, and Hugh O'Conor is absolutely delightful as the baby-faced village priest who secretly loves the music of Elvis.
To sum up, "Chocolat" is an appealing comedy-drama with some real touches of magic.
23 of 25 found the following review helpful:
As Scrumptious as Chocolate itself Jun 03, 2001
By carol irvin
First big suprise with this film was that it was filmed in English language, not French, so there are no subtitles. I've read that more and more movies are being shot in the English language simply because the potential box office profit is so much huger. Put simply, this is a delightful film which many critics are probably grading downwards because it is "just" a simple story that is simply (but beautifully) told. I am hardly ready to number myself among them! Lasse Hallestrom, who first distinguished himself with the marvelous "My Life As A Dog," knows his way around a film script and with actors and it shows. Playing much like a fable or fairy tale, Juliette Binoche is a woman, Vianne, who wanders from place to place with her daughter, Anouk, setting up shop as a chocolatier. This time she sets up shop in a peaceful French village in the winter of 1959. Delightful as the love story portion is with the river rat, Gypsy-like Johnny Depp, it is the hilarious war waged on Binoche by the town's mayor, played by Alfred Molina, who will reduce you to complete gut-busting laughter. His wife left him and his inability to deal with that fact fuels a lot of his animosity towards Vianne and the general air of sensual repression he wishes to foster in the village. All of the villagers are delightful characters and Binoche is pulled into relationships with them. If you need to brighten up your day, this is the movie to get.
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