Juliette Binoche, Johnny Depp
Directed by Claire Denis
Chocolat is a sinfully scrumptious bonbon about a nomadic single mom, Vianne (the delectable Juliette Binoche), who sweeps into a stubbornly quaint French village with her daughter, Anouk (Victoire Thivisol), and opens a chocolate shop. The time is the 1950s, and the tight-assed mayor, the Comte de Reynaud (Alfred Molina, a subtly fragile villain), doesn't cotton to this candy femme tantalizing his villagers, during Lent yet. Director Lasse Hallstrom and screenwriter Robert Nelson Jacobs, working from Joanne Harris' 1999 novel, assault intolerance with the liberating lure of chocolate. Quick to bite are Armande (Judi Dench), an aging rebel estranged from her daughter (Carrie-Anne Moss), and Josephine (Lena Olin), the klepto wife of an abusive husband (Peter Stormare). Dame Judi hams it up royally, while Olin, Mrs. Hallstrom offscreen, deepens the film with a performance of raw emotion. A charming Johnny Depp drops in as Roux, an Irish gypsy who tempts Vianne. Chocolat may be slight, but don't discount Hallstrom's artful finesse (you won't find a touch of Grinch-like crassness) or Miramax's skill at tempting Oscar (the indie studio snagged seven nominations for Hallstrom's late-1999 release, The Cider House Rules). Except for some indigestible whimsy — Anouk talks to a fantasy kangaroo named Pantoufle — Chocolat is yummy.
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