food in the arts







Dir: Lasse Hallström/ Writing credits: Joanne Harris (novel), Robert Nelson Jacobs 

Chocolat - one

chocolat - two

Juliette Binoche plays an enchantress who is also an itinerant chocolate maker. She and her daughter blow into a staid French village in the 1950s and awaken its residents with her magic chocolates. Is she a witch, as some believe, or a pagan priestess? Movie includes Judi Dench, Johnny Depp and other non-French co-stars plus lots of wonderful looking chocolates...cakes, truffles, hot chocolate with peppers, chocolate almonds and more. 

The story

Chocolat begins with Vianne Rocher and her six-year-old daughter Anouk arriving in the small village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes--"a blip on the fast road between Toulouse and Bordeaux"--during the carnival. Three days later, Vianne opens a luxuriant chocolate shop crammed with the most tempting of confections and offering a mouth-watering variety of hot chocolate drinks. It's Lent, the shop is opposite the church, it's open on Sundays and Francis Reynaud, the austere parish priest, is livid.

One by one the locals succumb to Vianne's concoctions. Harris weaves their secrets and troubles, their loves and desires, into this, her third novel, with the lightest touch. Sad, polite Guillaume and his dying dog. Thieving, beaten-up Joséphine Muscat. Schoolchildren who declare it "hypercool" when Vianne says they can help eat the window display--a gingerbread house complete with witch. And Armande, still vigorous in her eighties, who can see Anouk's "imaginary" rabbit Pantoufle, and recognises Vianne for who she really is. However, certain villagers-- including Armande's snobby daughter and Joséphine's violent husband--side with Reynaud. So when Vianne announces a Grand Festival of Chocolate commencing Easter Sunday, it's all-out war. War between church and chocolate, between good and evil, between love and dogma.

Reminiscent of Herman Hesse's short story Augustus, Chocolat is an utterly delicious novel, coated in the gentlest of magics, which proves--indisputably and without preaching--that soft centres are best.

Lisa Gee

The music

The base structure of strings and woodwinds that dominate composer Portman's works exists in full force here. Upon first listen to the score without any knowledge of the film's plot, the music seems either Italian or Spanish, heavy with guitar driven Mediterranean performances and an overly melodramatic Italian theme. Pieces of Chocolat even draw their roots from the Tuscany portions of Only You. And yet the film takes place in France, which isn't too much of a leap. The moments of ethnic outbursts  are easily the highlight of the score,  delegating them to traditional guitars and woodwinds rather than her favourite piano. 

Sally Bernstein 

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Chocolat [DVD] [2001] (UK)