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Film Review from the Film Gang

January 26th, 2001- Hear Cathy Soussloff's review in Real Audio

Chocolat - Directed by Lasse halstrom

The producers bill the film Chocolat as "A 
comic fable," the same genre of movie as 
Lasse Halstromís The Cider House Rules and one familiar to lovers of late 1940's American cinematic comedies, such as Pat and Mike or Adam's Rib.  These films, starring Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, used comedy and social satire to demonstrate how a strong and resourceful woman, often in spite of her own best intentions, could prevail over the confining gender norms of the day.  Chocolat attempts the same kind of casting - Juliette Binoche as Hepburn and Johnny Depp as Tracy in order to challenge the stultifying social and religious mores of a small village in France sometime after World War II.   On the other hand, the Tracy-Hepburn vehicles were completely contemporary and this is what made and continues to make them appealing and meaningful commentaries on middle class life.  The historical time together with the setting of Chocolat in a village small and faraway means that the bits of moralizing about the hypocrisies of that time and place make about as much difference to your present point of view as a nice bon bon does the day after youíve eaten it.  Melts in your mouth but not in your mind.

Don't get me wrong.  I love chocolate as much as the next woman and when Iím gazing on a delicious truffle or savoring the silky texture of it on my tongue I am enthralled.  Under cover of the fable Chocolat the supporting cast delivers an ensemble of superb performances:  Victoire Thivisol as the little Anouk, child of the chocolatierís diasporia;  Alfred Molina as the rigid aristocrat whose denial keeps alive whatever dramatic tension the movie conveys.  Finally, Carrie-Anne Moss, Judi Dench, and Lena Olin complete a group of remarkable women, all of whose grittiness cannot be completely displaced by the essential sweetness of female characters that Chocolat proposes.

As a film fable, the metaphor of Chocolat's chocolate must appeal to the visual senses.  The long takes of thick, brown cocoa, luscious violet bon-bons, and copper bowls of beaten mousse contrast with the chilly, blue exterior shots of the French village, establishing the attraction of all that the heroine and her chocolate shop have to offer.  The appeal in Chocolat comes as it does in all culinary undertakings:  in the challenge of establishing desire through visual presentation versus providing its fulfillment in the sensorial realm of taste. When sight and taste find a balance, great cuisine results.  When desire tips the scales, as it must in the visual medium of film, then our taste buds are unsatiated. 


Left only to contemplate our needs, like the food-deprived aristocrat in the film,  the balance of the movie Chocolat tips away from satisfaction towards the store-bought and pre-packaged variety of your standard Hollywood fare.  Oh, for the satisfaction of watching Hepburn stride across the greens, or wing another wisecrack back at Tracy.  These were the fables that delivered on comedy and commentary.

Chocolat plays at the Nickelodeon.  For KUSP and the Film Gang, this is Cathy Soussloff.  After more than a year away it is great to be back in Santa Cruz with the gang, having fun at the movies. 

Copyright Cathy Soussloff 2001