Chocolat; Comedy/ Drama, USA/ UK, 2000; D: Lasse Hallström, S: Juliette Binoche, Lena Olin, Alfred Molina, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Carrie-Anne Moss
French province, '59. Out of nowhere, the mysterious Vianne Rocher and her little daughter Anouk arrive to a small town. The two of them buy a store and open a pastry shop filled with chocolate. Since is the time of fasting, Comte Paul considers excessive enjoyment of chocolate a sin, while he is supported by the religiously fanatic church. Still, Vianne is full of goodness and hires Josephine in her store to protect her from her abusive husband. Gypsies show up in the city in boats, hated by everyone, but one of them, Roux, is employed by Vianne who falls in love with him. Zealot Paul decides to demolish the store, but when he tastes chocolate he changes his mind whereas Vianne gets accepted in the community.
Juliette Binoche won an Oscar in the overrated "The English Patient" after which her career went through a stagnation phase for a while. "Chocolate" is thus a small triumph for her since she got a very good role where she could display at least a part of her talent. The sole plot in which religious fanatics consider chocolate a sin during fasting isn't especially convincing, except if it can be seen as an allegory on numerous bans of numerous religions, and its critical re-examination, thus the speech of the priest at the end is a crucial quote and sums up the whole point in a nutshell: "I think that we can't go around measuring our goodness by what we don't do. By what we deny ourselves, what we resist, and who we exclude. I think we've got to measure goodness by what we create and who we include". Even though it has some serious tones about lack of tolerance in people, "Chocolat" is definitely a comedy that celebrates life and enjoyment (a young priest explains an old man that his dog doesn't have a soul and then scolds him because he gave the animal too much chocolate during fasting, upon which the man replies: "But if my dog doesn't have a soul, then God's laws don't apply for him!"), but with too much sugary charge and a too simple, or better said too relaxed crafting to be anything more than a neat film that doesn't reach the heights of director Lasse Hallstrom's earlier achievements.