Film: Chocolat

I have a knack for guessing people's favorites.

Once upon a time, a European pharmacist/explorer fell in love with and married a South American woman who was destined from birth to move as the wind blows, sharing her "ancient cacao remedies" with unhappy people. He brought her to Europe, but she didn't stay with him, departing with her daughter to move from place to place with the "clever North wind."

Her daughter Vianne (Juliette Binoche) is the focus of this 2000 film, adapted from a novel by Joanne Harris. She and her daughter Anouk (who hopes to settle down someday) live this same lifestyle, and at the beginning of the film move into a stuffy French village run by the Comte de Reynaud (Alfred Molina), a man who has stricter moral standards than the local priest and holds everyone to them.

Using the secret recipes of her mother's people, Vianne opens a chocolaterie during Lent, earning the Comte's disapproval. Although at first the townspeople give her a chilly reception, they slowly warm up to her as they are tempted by her fabulous concoctions. She convinces abused wife Josephine Muscat (Lena Olin) to leave her drunk husband Serge (Peter Stormare) and come work with her at the chocolaterie. She reunites young Luc Clairmont with his grandmother Armande (Judi Dench), a passionate and sarcastic woman deemed a bad influence by Luc's conservative mother, Caroline. Hidden passions left buried for years are brought to the surface with the help of the chocolate.

The Comte fears that Vianne is a threat to his control on the town and behaves accordingly, warning all the townspeople of the dangerous and evil nature of her chocolate. He spreads rumors about her atheism and liberal lifestyle, and even uses the local priest as a mouthpiece for his own ideas.

Conflict is further stirred up by the arrival of a group of gypsies, led by the impetuous and handsome Roux (Johnny Depp). Vianne, recognizing fellow outcasts, is the only shop owner in the town not to "boycott immorality" and refuse them service. She and Armande even contrive to unite them with the more liberal members of the town during Armande's 70th birthday celebration.

Although she changes everyone else's lives in the process, Vianne herself is changed by the people she meets in the town, specifically Roux - with whom she develops a romantic relationship - Josephine, and Armande. Whether or not Vianne can overcome her wanderlust is as big a question as whether severity or joy will finally win out over the town.

Primarily remembered today as having been nominated for several Academy Awards, including Best Picture, in what commentators then and now regard as the most egregious example of Miramax Films' notorious Oscar campaigns; this resulted in a huge backlash that has dogged the film ever since. Based on a novel by Joanne Harris which apparently nobody reads, with all the Nightmare Fuel taken out.


Tropes in the Original Novel and sequels:

  • Adult Fear: For Vianne, the fact that Anouk is growing up and into a different person from the innocent little girl that she used to be. This fear comes to life in ''The Girl With No Shadow"
    • Her daughter Rosette has ''cri du chat',' a real syndrome that is incurable and only has therapies.
    • In The Girl With No Shadow a priest and a social worker tracked her down and tried to take Rosette and Anouk away.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: Subverted; Rosette has cri du chat or "cry of the cat". Vianne reveals this in a flashback. Played straight with Thierry's son.
  • Bad Samaritan: Zozie in The Girl With No Shadow.
  • Bittersweet Ending: In Chocolat and The Girl With No Shadow
    • Chocolat: Josephine escapes her husband's influence, the Easter Festival goes as planned and Reynaud is caught in the act of trying to sabotage the gift boxes, but Armande is dead and Lansquenet no longer needs Vianne.
    • The Girl With No Shadow: Vianne and Anouk succeed in driving Zozie off and Vianne reconciles with her real mother and Roux at the price of losing Thierry and the chocolaterie in Montmarte, and Zozie remains alone.
  • Black Mail: Why Reynaud leaves Armande Voizin alone; she remembers that he tossed a Molotov cocktail that killed a gypsy couple in their boat and could easily spill the beans and ruin his reputation.
  • Children Are Cruel: Anouk becomes subject to teen classmates bullying her in The Girl With No Shadow for being different and for having a "retarded sister".
  • Clear My Name: Part of the plot in Peaches for Father Francis. Reynaud has been accused of arson, and though he has been guilty of it in the past, he claims that it's not him this time. Given he meets Vianne ten years after the events of Chocolat, time has allowed them to forgive each other and work together to find the real culprit.
  • Cool Old Lady: Armande Voizin in Chocolat. Framboise in The Girl With No Shadow
  • Deadly Euphemism: "Accidents" used in reference to children killing adults or using magic to cause mischief. Reynaud committed an "accident" in Chocolat, and Anouk does as well in The Girl With Now Shadow. Rosette's little magical escapades are less lethal but nevertheless called accidents.
  • Deal with the Devil: Vianne ponders on this after reflecting on a life with no magic, even referring to a fairy tale where a boy sold his shadow to a strange man later revealed to be the devil.
  • Domestic Abuse: Josephine Muscat suffers this from Paul-Marie.
    • Vianne later suffers emotional abuse at Thierry's hands, which she calls him out for, mainly in how he tries to control her life as well as her daughter's lives.
  • Evil Gloating: Zozie enjoys doing this.
  • From Bad to Worse: In between Chocolat and The Girl With No Shadow the wind pulled on Vianne and Anouk so hard that she abandoned magic completely, and the "Kindly Ones" — a social worker and a priest— followed her after she gave birth to a baby with cri du chat. No wonder Vianne becomes so disillusioned.
  • Gold Digger: Inverted; Vianne has no interest in marrying her landlord Thierry, but he controls her rent and could keep her family safe. He's the one putting pressure on her, and has financial power.
  • Grand Theft Me: A more mundane sort in The Girl With No Shadow. Zozie steals identities and lives for money, sometimes For the Evulz, and she plans to take Vianne's life. At least, that's what she tells Vianne; she really wants Anouk, to become a mother and mentor to her.
  • Hypocrite: Reynaud. He preaches about wanting to save the town's citizens from eternal damnation, but turns a blind eye when Muscat beats his wife.
    • Vianne later becomes one when cutting magic from the girls' lives. Anouk knows this and becomes resentful.
  • Idiot Ball: A few instances:
    • In Chocolat Josephine goes alone to her old house to get her clothes and books before her ex-husband throws them out. It was Sunday, during church, but Paul-Marie stayed at home . . .
    • In The Girl With No Shadow Jean-Loup gives Anouk photographic proof that Zozie is an identity thief and not what she seems to be. Anouk in response tears the photographs up because she won't hear anything bad about Zozie. Cue Face Palm from the audience.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: Thierry in The Girl With No Shadow , to almost no one's surprise.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: An odd case where the narrator Vianne is one. She's always cheerful, encouraging her customers to think differently with chocolates and pagan practices, and manages to solve others' problems. By the time The Girl With No Shadow takes place, however, reality has ensued and she has grown out of it.
    • Zozie is a Deconstruction of one; although her presence improves Vianne's life, she has ulterior motives.
  • Pet the Dog: How Zozie worms her way into Vianne's life in The Girl With No Shadow. She makes Vianne a cup of Mexican hot chocolate after Rosette has an episode in the shop, and slowly helps Vianne revert to the Manic Pixie Dream Girl that she used to be. The novel becomes a gradual Deconstruction of this trope, showing that a person who does good things isn't necessary good.
  • Self-Made Orphan: Zozie is one after her mother wanted to take her to a doctor.
  • The Last Dance: Armande Voizin's birthday. A diabetic who will go blind, she decides to stop taking her medicine and go all out in an extravagant feast, complete with plenty of wine.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Fortunately for Vianne, most of her customers have favorites. Her own are mendiants, biscuit-shaped chocolates that are sprinkled with raisins. Guillame in Chocolat likes florentines and often shares them with his dog Charley.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Reynaud in Chocolat. Joanne Harris assures us that he has mellowed since in time for Peaches for Father Francis.

Tropes in the Film:

  • Ashes to Crashes: in a non-comedic sense.
  • Blithe Spirit: Vianne.
  • Broken Bird: Josephine, who is escaping an abusive marriage.
  • But Now I Must Go: Narrowly averted at the end of the film.
  • Chocolate of Romance: It provides the page image. The movie itself can be considered to be almost centred around this:
    Vianne Rocher: And these are for your husband. Unrefined cacao nips from Guatemala, to awaken the passions.
    Yvette Marceau: Psshh. You've obviously never met my husband.
    Vianne Rocher: Well, you've obviously never tried these.
  • Cool Old Lady: Armande is an awesome grandmother (buying her grandson a book of Rimbaud's poetry) and friend, celebrating the finer things of life up until the end.
  • Covers Always Lie: The DVD cover (above) would have you think that Roux is a major character alongside Vianne. In reality, he doesn't show up until a good hour into the film and even then his scenes are fairly limited as the love interest and nothing more
  • Deadpan Snarker: Roux, most of the time. Once Josephine starts talking, she turns into one fairly quickly.
  • December-December Romance: Guillaume Blerot and the widow Audel.
  • Disappeared Dad: Anouk's father is only mentioned in the context of the scandal of Vianne being an unmarried woman with a daughter.
  • Disneyfication: The anti-religious theme of the movie adaptation was softened by replacing the bitter churchman of the book with a town representative. Also, the town itself was made to look drab and ugly in the opening acts, when the very first scene in the book describes the heroine and her daughter watching a bright parade through the streets of the same town. The novel ended with a brief, drunken hookup between the heroine and a male supporting character, leaving her pregnant as she left the village to continue drifting. In the movie, the relationship between her and the man is developed into a full romantic subplot, he returns at the end, and the heroine decides she doesn't need to leave the village, breaking the cycle.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Exact words used by Armande when Vianne learns she's diabetic.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: When the Comte finds out that Serge started the fire at the dock in a bid to kill his wife, Vianne, and the Gypsies living there, the Comte is shocked, and he angrily orders Serge to leave the town, telling him that he is forever banished from the village.
  • Mr. Fanservice: This film propelled Johnny Depp straight back into the sex-symbol territory he had fought so hard to get out of with his earlier films. He's held this title ever since, albeit in an extremely non-traditional way.
  • Faith Heel Turn: Averted with the Comte de Reynaud, who becomes a better person when he relaxes the more fanatical elements of his faith.
  • Flyaway Shot: The movie ends with a zoom-out from the statue to an areal shot of the whole village.
  • Food Porn: Especially the slow-motion eating sequences.
  • Forbidden Fruit: The villagers are tempted to break their Lenten fast with the decadent chocolate
  • The Fundamentalist: The Comte de Reynaud.
  • Good Is Boring: The heroine, Vianne, does not conform to the village's definition of "good".
  • Holier Than Thou: The Comte de Reynaud.
  • Imaginary Friend: Anouk's kangaroo, Pantoufle, who seems a little less imaginary at the end was a way for her to cope with moving from place to place so much. He leaves when she doesn't need him anymore.
  • Inspector Javert: Again, the Comte.
  • Leave Your Quest Test
  • Lighter and Fluffier: The writer of the original novel explicitly compares it to "milk chocolate", while the source material is darker and bitterer with more of an edge.
  • Magic Realism: Vianne's chocolate and her ability to guess people's favorites are examples of this.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Vianne is this to the whole village.
  • The Mourning After: The woman Guillame is attracted to lost her husband in the war, thanks to a German grenade. No, not that war—he was killed on January 12, 1917. His poor wife has been in mourning for 22 years. She does begin dating Guillame by the end.
  • Narrator All Along: We only discover at the end of the film that the narrator is Anouk.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Most characters manage to sound as if they at least knew what a French accent sounded like (it helped that Juliette Binoche is actually French, and so was about half the cast). Johnny Depp, however, decided his character was Irish. This is somewhat justified by his lifestyle as a gypsy. Judi Dench, notably, keeps her natural accent...presumably, because nobody tells Dame Judi Dench how to play a scene.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: There's at least one whole scene where Alfred Molina completely drops his otherwise fairly convincing French accent and reverts back to his native London accent.
  • Oscar Bait: It didn't win any Oscars, but did get five nominations including Best Picture. That it got those five nominations at all, over what many viewed as superior films, became a major point of contention. There's no denying, though, that Judi Dench can do no wrong and her nomination, at least, was well-deserved.
  • Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: Used as a way for the author to say religion is evil/encumbering on society in the original book.
    • Averted in the movie. Although the film doesn't see anything wrong with breaking holy fasts or otherwise defying your religion in pursuit of happiness, it doesn't condemn religion outright; the priest is portrayed sympathetically and points out by the end that religion should be based on love and compassion instead of discrimination and rigidity.
  • Preacher Man: Père Henri, a lovable young preacher who not only pays close attention to his flock's spiritual needs, but the quality of their lives. He's just a bit of an Extreme Doormat when it comes to the seemingly inhumanly devout Comte de Reynaud. Upon seeing him passed out in the chocolaterie's window, he realizes that the man has as much need of guidance as the rest, and starts treating him as another supplicant. Ultimately, he's the one who drops the film's anvil: faith isn't just supposed to condemn sins, it's supposed to encourage virtues - above all, compassion and tolerance.
    • Perhaps in a reference to the movie, in Peaches for Monsieur Le Curé (The third volume in Vianne's story), the author introduces Père Henri Lemaitre, another priest from a neighbouring village, who is meant to replace the old-fashioned and strict Reynaud, is portrayed as pandering to his parishioners and modernising church practices, but neglecting to become a real councellor and authority figure like Reynaud for the people of his parish.
  • Pre-Approved Sermon: The Comte gives this treatment to the priest.
  • Pygmalion Snapback: The Comte's efforts to change Josephine's husband don't work out.
  • Romani: Roux & Co.
  • Screw Destiny: All over.
  • Secretly Dying: At least implied regarding Armande's diabetes.
  • Sleeping Dummy: Luc pads his bed (with crumpled drawing paper) so he can sneak out to his grandmother's birthday party.
  • Straw Atheist: Vianne to the villagers.
    Boy 1: I hear she's an atheist.
    Boy 2: What's that?
    Boy 1: ...I don't know.
    • Given that she practices various traditional magics and is going to hold a fertility celebration on Easter, while Vianne is labeled an atheist she probably practices pagan (in a broad sense of the word) beliefs, though she would never label herself as such.
  • Supreme Chef: Vianne's creations are mouth-watering enough to win over an entire town of strict Catholics during Lent.
  • Trailers Always Lie: Some previews suggested that the movie was about someone selling aphrodisiacs disguised as chocolate. This happened in the film, sort of, but only once, and it didn't become a plot point.
  • Villainous Breakdown: The Comte has a gentle one at the end of the movie, where he breaks into the chocolate shop intending to destroy it... then he accidentally tastes the chocolate. The rush of simple delight he feels opens a floodgate for all the emotions he's been keeping bottled up inside, and he ends up devouring chocolate while sobbing, until he finally curls up in the remains of the Easter display and falls asleep, to be awoken the next morning by Vianne and a effervescent tablet in glass of water. So it could be said that he gets his just desserts.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: The Comte, arguably. Though he's definitely on the low end of extreme. After all, morals are by definition good things, aren't they?
    • Any good thing can become bad if taken too far.