felt reassured when the film treatment
of Joanne Harris' novel began "Once
upon a time
" but the movie
quickly dashed my hopes. Harris' amusing
and sinister book, with its dark humor
and bitter places, is a Grimm's fairy
tale for adults. The movie has been Mother
Goosed into cotton candy. Damned if I
can fathom the reasons why.
this is the tale of Vianne Rocher (Binoche),
who moves to the small village of Lansquenet
and opens a chocolaterie across the square
from the church smack in the middle of
Lent. The righteous Comte de Reynaud (Molina)
instantly sees creeping hedonism in this
sweet shop, particularly after the proprietress
politely explains that she does not attend
church and that, despite the presence
of a young daughter, she has never been
married. These two engage in comic battle
for the souls of the villagers.
the Comte's warnings, made through his
mouthpiece (the village's very young,
impressionable priest) patrons soon flock
to Vianne's shop. Their custom takes on
a pseudo-sacramental aspect, as visitors
reveal things about their lives and receive,
if not absolution, confections. You have
to wonder "Whatever does she put
in those chocolates?" because the
eager consumers soon find ways to transcend
the limits of their lives.
limitations of a movie, however, (if it
has any kind of decent editing at all)
make it impossible to allow Vianne to
spend the time gaining people's confidence
that the book does, and this is unfortunate.
Though she is clearly a "good witch"
in both book and movie, on-screen relationships
simply form too fast. The movie also gives
us a sort of French Grinch-the Puritanical
Comte de Reynaud-whose negative attitudes
toward gustatory pleasures would surely
cost a Frenchman his citizenship.
is easy on the eyes. Binoche and Depp
are pretty, pretty people and Carrie-Anne
Moss turns out to bear a striking resemblance
to Catherine Deneuve. Molina is fun to
watch as the self-appointed morals police.
Sadly, Dame Dench has substituted some
sort of formalized ritual-crotchety and
eccentric good-hearted old lady-for acting.
Even worse, the movie reduces the story
to such a simplistic conflict over whether
pleasure is good or bad that it scarcely
seems worth the telling.
move the story from the present day to
1959? Why create Messieur le Comte instead
of keeping the book's adversary, the creepily
obsessive village priest with a scandal
in his past? Why create an exotic Mayan
family history for Vianne? Why so much
voice-over? Why use soft focus on Binoche,
Olin, and Dench? They may not be young
women, but, as the saying goes, they're
each of them more lovely than the others.
viewers won't have read the book and won't
be troubled by these questions, but believe
you me, the book is mighty fine. Obviously
the filmmakers thought highly enough of
it to choose it for their movie, then
they pissed all over it. For taking a
pleasingly snarky little book and making
it black-and-white, happily-ever-after,
CHOCOLAT-a movie I've looked forward to
for months, dammit-gets only 2.5 stars.
Bogucka, an Action Grrl!