Film Review: Chocolat

It may or may not be the best move in the world to watch a film, so indulgently centred around cocoa, when you suffer from an eating disorder and struggle mentally with thoughts of biscuits, chocolate and getting fat. But that’s exactly what I did, and somehow I managed to survive.

Chocolat is one of those films that has a reputation which proceeds it where ever it goes. Based on a book by Joanne Harris, the mere mention of it will start to temper images in your head of Juliette Binoche seductively placing caramel swirls into the mouth of Johnny Depp. It all seems a bit too romantic, a bit too feminine, a bit too easy to avoid. And avoid it I have been. Not because of it’s association to a food stuff I struggle with but rather, because it seemed too “chic-lit-flic”, it seemed like the kind of movie your sister would watch. If you had one. Which I don’t.

Johnny Depp & Juliette Binoche - Chocolat

But, it’s available on the Curzon home cinema service, and it wasn’t too expensive and for some reason it appealed and so I gave it ago. And I must say, it’s not very good. It wasn’t simply a case of not expecting much from it and so not getting much from it, but rather, a case of a film that deserved to give so much more than it does. It really seems to lack any depth, richness and flavour to use some food related adjectives.

Firstly, it is meant to be set in France and yet the inhabitants of the small village it all takes place in just look anything other than French. Dame Judi Dench, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugh O’Conor; the more locals the story introduces us to, the more multicultural it becomes. Honestly, while it’s horrendously stereotypical, rural France has a very specific appearance and it’s people a specific look. Something the Hollywood cast list failed to take into account. Worst still and just increasing this issue, is the dialogue. The film is in English, and yet throughout, the cast bring to their roles a multitude of poor, bad and borderline insulting attempts at French accents. Highlighted worst by the occasions Dame Judi Dench manages to slip her accent unintentionally from French to Upper Class English and back to French without stopping for breath.

Dame Judi Dench - Chocolat

And just after you’ve begun to lose faith in the film due to it’s attempt to fool you into thinking this is France, it tries to tell you it’s set in the late 1950s. I’m not sure what era the clothes, mannerisms and characters think they live in but it doesn’t feel like the end of the 1950s. It’s not got the warmth and vibrancy I mentally expect from that era as the memories of the war gave way into the madness of the swinging sixties. As a time frame, it just feels unplaceable.

So all you’re really left with is the plot, which is narrated through the eyes of a child in the style of a bedtime story and this just confuses things further. Not because the narration doesn’t make sense, but because it creates a tone to the story that doesn’t work. I was never sure whether this film was meant to be taken seriously, whether it’s meant to have the underlying imagery and meaning that fables and tales usually carry with them or if in fact, it was a comedy. If the silliness and miscasting of roles was actually all part of the illusion it was trying to create.

I believe, that Chocolat wanted to be a serious film but slipped unwittingly and unintentionally towards the comedic end of the spectrum and as a result, ended up as neither. It lacks the belief and passion to ever be a serious film. It doesn’t really look into the characters, it doesn’t allow you to sink your teeth into anything and creates more questions than it answers. The longer the film went on and the more it’s comedic side came through, the more I actually thought the film would have been served better embracing it and starting again.

Wes Anderson - Chocolat

The film is directed by Lasse Hallström, who brought Salmon Fishing in the Yemen to the screen, but for me the two films are miles apart. Chocolat for me, needed a stronger hand in charge; someone who could clearly see where it was trying to go and honestly, spent a lot of the film thinking that if Wes Anderson was directing, if the madness and style portrayed in The Darjeeling Limited and The Grand Budapest Hotel, were applied somehow retrospectively to Chocolat you could end up with a strangely enjoyable and more fitting tale.

Because sadly, I’m still waiting for that hit of velvety, milky smoothness to come through.

5 out of 10 stars (5 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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