Employing chocolate as an amusing metaphor for change (especially when the mayor pigs out on it at the end), this is a story of convention versus freedom, of the established order versus self-expression, and of the tussle between the Comte de Reynaud (Alfred Molina), the judgmental, bossy mayor, and the free-spirited Vianne Rocher (Juliette Binoche). She has just arrived in the sumptuous, tucked-away French village of Lansquenet, with her daughter in tow, and caused gossip and upset in her wake.
The mayor ("Boycott immorality!") ensures that everyone gasps with disapproval at her single-mum status, her non-attendance at church, and the fact that she has not only opened a shop quite different to the one which was there before but - big shock - opened a chocolate shop just before Lent. Vianne teams up with another maverick, a local gypsy (Johnny Depp), but soon the village folk are drooling over her chocolate and discovering their own individuality and new sense of freedom. In this plea for tolerance, even the mayor redeems himself.
As befits its filling, this picture is considerably enlivened by chocolate-box charm. Pretty pictures and pretty attitudes are certainly enough for a fair few of the scenes, yet the charm does block the possibility of any real edge. The criticism of authority is so kindly, so nice, that the sting has been removed even before the sideswipes are made.
However, "Chocolat" is an often alluring package, good-looking and attractively wrapped by Juliette Binoche, Judi Dench (as the difficult but hurt old bat who becomes her friend), Lena Olin (as the abused wife who learns to fight back), and director Lasse Hallström who keeps things nice and light. If you can’t be bothered running a nice warm bath, see this instead.
Read a review of the "Chocolat" DVD.