Beyond the Pane is Pleasure: A Chocolat Review Essay

None are allowed to see what Vianne is concocting behind the windows concealed with newspaper. Away from the public eye, Vianne paints the walls of her shop with Mayan designs and places tribal sculptures on the shelves with care. Young schoolboys peek through the miniscule slivers in between the newspaper; their only means to observe the magic happening within its walls. They watch as the grinding of the cocoa beans begins. With a knowing smile Vianne stirs the cocoa into a chocolaty paste, swirling around and around the luscious, thick brown mixture in her cauldron of temptation and passion.

Platters are loaded with delights such as gleaming gold-foiled chocolate stars, balls of chocolate dipped in ganache, and red-foiled hearts to please the eye as well as the tongue, mind, and heart. They are artfully arranged inside the masked display window. At last, Vianne tears down the newspaper for all to see. The townspeople’s hurried pace to Mass slows down as they pass the new, most sensational store in town. They cast looks of contempt at these dangerously tempting treats and…its shopkeeper. “I heard she was some kind of radical,” one townsperson murmurs. I heard she was an atheist,” whispers another. As Vianne proudly hangs her sign, “Chocolaterie Maya” she knows that her business hinges on the content of her customers, and the approval of the town’s pious mayor, Comte de Reynaud. The Comte is not pleased at all with Lansquenet’s newest residents. It is the holy time of Lent when Vianne and her young daughter Anouk follow the North Wind to his quiet town. During this time of solemnity and conservatism, she dares to open up a chocolaterie—a place where human yearnings are devoured in truffles and quenched in hot cocoa.

Vianne persuades the townspeople to indulge in that they will not give themselves. She transforms Josephine, an abused housewife, who learns that she deserves better. Over chocolate cake she brings together her landlord Armonde and estranged grandson. Vianne’s business becomes a crusade for matters of the heart, and the townspeople eat it up. Despite how many people she helps with chocolate’s special powers, she inadvertently threatens others by her exotic practice. Comte de Reynaud is even more defensive when unwelcome visitors float down the Tannes River to their village.

In reaction to these “rootless, godless drifters” Comte convinces almost every business in town to put a “Boycott Immorality” poster in their window…except for the Chocolaterie. Vianne’s sweets are available for all, and she happens to attract a particular river rat, Roux, to visit her shop. The two form a bond that only drifters would understand—a longing to belong and to be accepted. Roux listens to Vianne and her daughter, helping them recognize their true desires. An important moment in the film is when the Comte de Reynaud finally discovers the meaning of chocolate for himself.

The night before Easter Sunday, Comte is distraught at his town’s lack of morality due to the influence of the chocolaterie and the river people. He expresses his fury by breaking into Vianne’s shop late in the night, and demolishing the chocolates innocently sitting in the display window. In his path of destruction, a tiny drop of chocolate falls on his godly lips. With hesitation Comte licks away the sinfulness only to be completely consumed by its charms. He proceeds to eat every piece of chocolate in sight until he collapses into a heap of human satisfaction and ethical turmoil.

On the dawn of Easter Sunday, Monsier le Comte is found sleeping soundly in the chocolaterie’s display window. He awakes a renewed man, and the entire town is resurrected with the Lord’s message of tolerance and love. Director Lasse Hallstrom adapts Chocolat (2000) into a visually decadent and mystifying story of tradition and moral indignation. Screenwriter Robert Nelson Jacobs interprets the novel by Joanne Harris, portraying its plot and interconnected characters with contrasting scenes of tranquility and controversy. The producers include David Brown, Leslie Holleran and Kit Golden.

Executive producers are Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, Alan C. Blomquist and Meryl Poster, with co-producer Mark Cooper. Lively music by Rachel Portman accompanies this adventurous story. The set was chosen by design producer, David Gropman, in the medieval French town of Flavigny, as well Dijon, France and in the West Country of England. Nominated for five Academy Awards, the film is rated PG-13 and runs for 122 minutes. Leading actors Juliette Binoche, Johnny Depp, Dame Judi Dench, Alfred Molina, Lena Olin, and Carrie-Anne Moss captivate audiences of all ages with this fable-like tale. Chocolat is categorized as a drama and romance, but s set apart for its sub-genre as a “food film. ”

In a critical essay by Helene A. Shugart, she argues that food is an outlet to “engage and assuage anxieties attendant on contemporary cultural ambiguities and permeabilities. ” Particularly for this devoutly religious town of 1960’s France, chocolate serves as a medium for a cultural upheaval. Producer Alan Blomquist noticed how ironic it was that “filming in Flavigny stiffed up its own small-town controversies, including a group of monks who had fears about the film’s theme of seeking pleasure in this world rather than waiting for the promise of a better one. The tone for change was set before the production process began. This film can be taken from a realistic approach or an idealist’s perspective. An anonymous movie critic from homevideo. about. com once states that, “it’s the kind of film where either you buy into the fantasy or you don’t. ” Some reviewers believe the movie is superficial. One anonymous writer from contactmusic. com says, “there’s even a Disney-esque treat to the close of the picture that’s sure to incite a few groans. ” Granted, a happily-ever-after ending is not for everyone.

Practical critics such as Roger Ebert, would rather focus on themes such as “the war between paganism and Christianity” or the cultural influence of the shop, instead of the magic that appears to initiate the uprising. On the contrary, romantics reflect on the whimsical ideas portrayed. Lael Loewenstein of serialsolutions. com regards the film as “a richly textured comic fable that blends Old World wisdom with a winking, timely commentary on the assumed moral superiority of the political right. Chocolat’s cleverly designed plot instills the message that everyone can strive to be more understanding of one another—regardless of political or religious affiliation. Lasse Hallstrom utilizes Harris’s novel as a way to highlight the unique quirks that make people who they are, and show how these characters interact with one another. He uses this story as a cry for tolerance. However, there are mixed reviews as to how his concept was construed. Some appreciate the light and dreamy atmosphere the director emulated.

A reviewer from culture. om notes, “Throughout the shoot, Lasse Hallstrom attempted to blur the line between myth and emotion, fable and funny human truths. ” Another from talktalk. uk. com says that, “Hallstrom is a master of creating intimate and convincing worlds, inhabited by colourful and original characters. ” In contrast, critics also address the director’s flaws that made the film appear cliche. The New York Times mentions that Hallstrom was overly confident in his ability to win his audience over, and went so far as to dumb-down the audience with a moot conflict. Chocolat is so assured in its manipulative prowess that only afterward do you realize how fully you’ve been worked over. ” A writer from contactmusic. com hints that Hallstrom lacks variety in his works, directing “yet another pretty package of tempered social messages. ” It can be agreed that his message got through to the public, but to different effects. I prefer to look at the film from the idealist’s perspective. One of Hallstrom’s directives was to charm the audience with a fanciful, humorous allegory of self-liberation, and I bought into it.

I enjoyed watching the townspeople bond in a common interest and being transformed by the renewed sense of community that ensues. In regards to the religious overtones in the film, I consider the chocolaterie during Lent as another way to remember the Lord’s unconditional love and tolerance. He is their symbol of universal tolerance, and hence their town should embody His example. These chocolates provide a window of opportunity for people to treat themselves with respect and, in turn treating others in the same manner. Everyone—even Comte de Reynaude—can be redeemed in the pleasures of chocolate.