|Chocolat (Collector's Series) (2000)|
|DVD Romantic Drama|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 07 August 2001|
In 1959, the calm and complacency of a little French town is shaken to its core by the arrival of Vianne (Juliette Binoche). Vianne, single mother of little Anouk (Victoire Thivisol), scandalizes the town’s prim, pious mayor (Alfred Molina) and his devoted secretary (Carrie-Anne Moss). The newcomer’s unmarried status, her opening of a chocolate shop (in the middle of Lent, no less), her refusal to attend church and her friendship with a band of river-going gypsies – particularly their leader, Roux (Johnny Depp) – are all cause for consternation. Vianne has a magical gift for knowing what people want and the ability to remain unintimidated – but as the townspeople gradually succumb to culinary temptation and open their minds, we find that Vianne has a secret wanderlust that doesn’t make her entirely happy.
Director Lasse Hallstrom and screenwriter Robert Nelson Jacobs have adapted Joanne Harris’ novel into a very skillfully-crafted storybook of a movie, with the gentle, inevitable rhythms of folklore. The actors throw themselves into their roles so zestfully that they give dimension and soul to archetypes. (Even the more complex characters tend to break down into several basic traits.) Hallstrom and Jacobs do an adroit job of giving the film a timeless feel – now and again, there are references to WWII and (amusingly) Elvis Presley, but in many ways, "Chocolat" would work set in nearly any peacetime era during the last two centuries. This is a large part of its appeal – "once upon a time" could be any time we choose.
The directional sound is very agreeable, with good detail all the way through. In Chapter 1, wind and snow blow across the speakers with swirling effects that make us shiver sympathetically. The omniscient voice of the narrator surrounds us with the elements, while the human voice of the onscreen priest (Hugh O’Conor) is clear in the center channel. Chapter 4 provides a strong, anchoring ambient effect as we hear a sign being hung in the mains. Chapter 9 has a subtle but telling effect as we quietly hear the pounding of a human heart. Chapter 12 provides impact without undue reverberation when a door is kicked in, and nicely handles the delicate work of footsteps on a floor segueing to shoes on outdoor gravel. Chapter 15 provides lively acoustic jazz in the mains while remaining sensitive enough to give us distinct footfalls and night cricket chirps in the rears. Chapter 16 has a muted but mobile explosion that moves directionally through the speakers.
Hallstrom gives the scenes the glow of a Rembrandt painting, which is very handsome, but once in awhile looks a bit gauzy on the DVD image. Extras on the DVD include an informative audio commentary with Hallstrom and three producers – David Brown, Kit Golden and Leslie Holleran – with some good details on the development of the piece (for example, originally the Molina character was the village priest rather than the mayor). Featurettes on production and costume design are likewise informative and the juxtaposition of sketches with the three-dimensional final versions of the designs is a welcome touch.
"Chocolat" is lovely and enjoyable on its own terms, although it doesn’t entirely escape the faint whiff of smugness that often accompanies cinematic tales of uncomplicated, good people. "Chocolat" manages the feat of being new while seeming comfortingly familiar – depending on your mindset, it may be just the treat you need or too straightforward for easy consumption.