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Chocolat
2000 - PG-13 - 121 Mins.
Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Producer: Alan C. Blomquist, David Brown, Kit Golden, Leslie Holleran
Written By: Robert Nelson Jacobs
Starring: Juliette Binoche, Lena Olin, Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, Alfred Molina
Review by: David Trier
   
Chocolat does for chocolate what Traffic did for crack cocaine. That's not really true. I just wanted to see that in print. I'll take a box of Milk Duds over paranoia and impotence any day. But I digress.

A small town in northern France is preparing for lent, that unusual Christian ritual where you make yourself miserable for a month. Depressed and dysfunctional, no one is prepared for a beautiful woman, Vianne Rocher (Juliette Binoche) and her daughter (Victoire Thivisol) who move in and open a chocolate shop. Vianne's liberal atheistic spirit proves distasteful for the anal retentive mayor (Alfred Molina), who re-writes the young preacher's sermons and launches campaigns against immorality (drifters). But she seems to brighten the lives of her landlady (Judi Dench) who's daughter (Carrie-Anne Moss) over-shelters the grandson (Aurelien Parent-Koening) and emotionally cracked Josephine Muscat (Lena Olin) whose drunken husband (Peter Stormare) abuses her. When a group of Irish hippy drifters stop by, Vianne falls for Roux (Johnny Depp), but when they drift away again, she starts to feel the call of the north wind... The chocolaterie has brought happiness to a lot of people, but can Vianne, a perpetual drifter, stay in the same place permanently?

In a word, nice. You meet someone, they make you smile, they may or may not be fascinating, you call them nice. This movie is beautifully shot, wonderfully acted, pretty well written and just plain nice. I can't recommend it to any of my beer-guzzling, football-watching buddies, but this is a good movie about relationships, chocolate, growing old, and other things women care about. All of the acting is top notch as to be expected from its A-list cast. Juliette Binoche is absolutely charming (and pretty easy on the eyes too). Judi Dench is fantastic and bound to be nominated for something. Alfred Molina, one of the great infallibles, delivers another entertaining character. Lena Olin is perhaps the best feature of the film. Her performance is deeply moving. Johnny Depp - or "Peculiar Resume Man," as I like to call him - brings a subtle charm to Roux. They tried to market this film as a romance starring Depp, but his part is actually pretty small and the romance is probably the least integral part of the story. Both the children, the landlady's grandson and Vianne's daughter are adorable without - and this is important - being irritating. Peter Stormare, a character actor favorite, is also quite good. Carrie-Anne Moss delivers a surprising straightforward performance, even though I kept expecting her to show up in a tight black latex uniform and kick people whilst flying about the room. She was in The Matrix, for those who're wondering if I've completely lost it.

The movie is very good, but it isn't great. The film operates on three major cliches that I'm still not sold on. One: With the number of films on the topic, one would think that most of the world, but certainly most of France, is filled with cities that apparently have rules against enjoying life. They are always run by manic-depressives who only thrive on keeping people bored. Two: Hey, chocolate's good, but you're never going to convince me it's any more life changing or passion-inspiring than human flesh. Three: The drifter can never stay in the same place. But movie drifters get this itch to leave town even when things are going extremely well, and that's weird. My only other major gripe about this movie is characters have unplaceable accents (or "Christopher Lamberts," as I like to call them), when in reality they would all be speaking French.

The score, like the characters, is delightful and charming. In conclusion, despite being a little silly and inconsequential, Chocolat is evenly paced, well acted, and an all around pleasant fable.
 
Movie Guru Rating
An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater.
  4 out of 5 stars

 
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