Food for Thought
By Jane V., Fredericton High School, Fredericton, NB
Chocolate has its seduction power, its devilish quality, its passion, its healing power and its humour. Accordingly, Chocolat does too! This delightful tale is a magical journey of growth, acceptance, friendship and, of course, chocolate.
A tiny French town is transformed bit by bit when a strange woman, Vianne, played by Juliette Binoche, and her daughter, Anouk, Victoire Thivisol, upset the tranquillity of this peaceful town. Their ancestors, known as "the wanderers," travelled from town to town guided by the north wind, spreading the pleasures of chocolate. Guided by this wind of change, Vianne moves to town and opens her chocolaterie just in time for lent, a decidedly wicked act in a small town built upon traditions. Vianne and her lifestyle are considered inappropriate by the Compte de Reynaud, mayor of the town. The Compte's distaste for Vianne and her chocolaterie are spread throughout the town, making it hard for both Vianne's business and social life, as well, it becomes nearly impossible for Anouk to fit in with the other children. Luckily she has her imaginary Kangaroo, Pantouffe, who can't hop due to a bad leg. Vianne soon becomes entangled in the dramas that make up the lives of this little town. Swayed by her charm and wisdom, the villagers are drawn into Vianne's carefree world. It becomes a sort of fight between the compte and the chocolaterie. With a band of Gypsies, and the villagers swayed to her side, Vianne must chose between the village she comes to love and the call of the north wind.
The town filmed has old French architecture and is the stereotypical fairy tale town: dirty and plain; dark with boring angles to it. Perfectly drab to allow Vianne to give it life, and perfect for the magic created on screen. All the actors had french accents really which brought the feel of town to life. With an impressive cast, all the actors and actresses have amazing stage presence. They captivate the audience and make it easy to forget that you are watching a movie. Josephine, Lena Olin, a very nervous woman beaten by her husband is convincing with this role; her darting eyes and her tense body language tell a thousand words. Vianne, Juliette Binoche, has an enchanting, comforting and slightly distant smile that tells the soul of her character. Roux, Johnny Depp, has his Irish accent down to a tee and plays the guitar soulfully, drawing you into the allure of his character's gypsy charm.
Director Lasse Hallström did an amazing job, managing to keep a fairytale grounded with an emotional reality. Even when something magical is happening, there is an emotional honesty that shines through. Hallström also combines plot and character development while maintaining a perfect balance of comedy and character drama. With a narrative style that just screams fairytale, we are introduced to the story and periodically drawn back to its enchanting spell.
Music is an essential element in this film, setting the scene and the mood of each character. There are two main musical themes. Wind is a strong reoccurring symbol representing change. Vianne's theme embodies this. It is a chilling, mysterious and slightly exotic tune that represents her past, the wind, and her restlessness, signalling her next shift of towns. While other parts are looser and more carefree, representing this side of Vianne's character. The other main theme is the Compte de Reynaud's, which is more classical than Vianne's theme, representing his formal nature. Like him, it is at times sad and melancholic. The bassoon imitates the compte's discomfort and the english horn portrays his bitterness. Although the compte is the bad guy the music helps us feel sympathy for him, knowing that he isn't evil.
The cinematography in this movie is great. I especially admire the quality of the shots capturing the wind, such as the blowing leaves. As Vianne's mother's urn is falling down the stairs, the ashes are strewn and both Vianne and Anouk's reactions are very powerful. The camera angles in this movie are very interesting, at times peeping through holes between the newspaper covering windows to see inside the chocolaterie, at times taking on the nature of the blowing wind. I also found the images of the chocolate making process to be quite mesmerizing and mouth-watering, causing every chocolate lover to crave some.
This is a captivating movie filled with humour, romance and drama that will be enjoyed by everyone. For who can resist Chocolat?
Official website for Miramax's Production - Chocolat : www.miramax2000.com
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