- Juliette Binoche as Vianne Rocher
- Judi Dench as Armande Voizin
- Alfred Molina as Comte de Reynaud
- Lena Olin as Josephine Muscat
- Johnny Depp as Roux
- Victoire Thivisol as Anouk
- Carrie-Anne Moss as Caroline Clairmont
Based on the novel by Joanne Harris, Chocolat is a light-hearted fable to the power of food and tradition being threatened by change. Although it may be to sweet for some viewers, it still is a deliciously joy of a film to watch.
The year is 1959 and the setting is a small traditional village in France. The austere town is ruled over by the devoutly religious Comte de Reynaud, who instills the residence with a firm belief in tradition and strict values. One day, a blustering North wind brings with it a hooded stranger. She is Vianne Rocher, a mysterious drifter with her sweet-natured daughter Anouk in tow. She proceeds to open a chocolate shop just as the staunch village is preferring for a period of abstinence during Lent. The good-natured and bewitching Vianne soon becomes the talk of the cloistered community for this act of defiance, because of her refusal to attend church, revealing clothing and the fact that Anouk doesn’t know who her father is. The repressed and angry Reynaud abhors the idea of a confectionary and tries whatever means necessary to put an end to the shop. Yet one by one the villagers are seduced by the shop and in a number of ways, Vianne awakens hidden desires within them and helps those around her who are in need of it.
Heading the cast is Juliette Binoche in a luminous performance, imbuing Vianne with a rebellious defiance that helps combat the opposition thrown her way because she is an outsider. Judi Dench(long one of my favourite actresses) is a joy to watch as the surly and eccentric neighbour Armande, who is won over by Vianne’s charm and chocolates. Dench shows a woman who knows that time is not on her side but is still up for having a good time before she is unable to. Alfred Molina is funny yet serious as the mayor who feels pressured by the change in his town and watching him react to the change is quite funny but also effective. Lena Olin is great as the downtrodden Josephine, who blossoms into an independent woman after leaving her abusive husband and moving in with Vianne. Other people to look out for are Johnny Depp as a traveller who takes a liking to Vianne and Carrie-Anne Moss as the pious daughter of Armande, who forbids her child from seeing her because she is a bad influence.
Visually, Chocolat is sumptuous featuring many scenes of chocolate being made( if it doesn’t make you feel hungry I don’t know what will) and the dedication that goes into it. The cinematography greatly adds to the look of the town, cold and eerie from tradition and the arrival of the vivacious Vianne eliciting brightness among the lives of the townspeople. The music score featured adds a playful tone to the film, with finicky violins reminding one of the sinfully delicious temptation of Vianne’s chocolates. Taken as a comic fable from Lasse Hallstrom, it is an outstanding film but there are those that will find it cloying and sentimental. Love it or loathe it, it is hard not to be captured by this delicious story.