Thursday, 20 October 2011


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Set in the 15 French village of Lansquenets, Chocolat is the story of a young woman named Vianne and her daughter Anouk as they struggle to establish a business and home against significant religious opposition. The two of them go to the house of elderly woman who is the owner of a disused shop in the town square, just opposite the church. She agrees to rent the shop and its apartment to Vianne. They move in immediately and start cleaning and decorating, eventually opening a Chocolaterie. The chocolate concoctions Vianne creates are all based on secret family recipes, from the dark, bittersweet variety, to homemade hot chocolate. Still, that is not the focus of this film as much as the delicate relationships Vianne forms with several members of the community.

One of the most volatile relationships is between Vianne and the town Mayor. These two individual are complete opposites. When the Mayor stops by to welcome Vianne to town and invites her to Sunday mass, she politely refuses. She is not only a person who does not go to church, but an avowed atheist. This has the Mayor seeing Vianne as a threat to the community in general, and to him personally.

The most important conflict between the two is how the Mayor views Vianne as the “towns temptress”. She is both a single mother and a gypsy, which doesnt fly too well in his conservative town. Additionally, the mayor simply cannot imagine why Vianne would open up a Chocolaterie during Lent, of all times. Vianne, of course, replies why not? This violation of the Mayors beliefs sets the stage for constant conflict between the two of them, to the point the Mayor sees the chocolaterie as a big distraction for the church-going villagers. So in an attempt to discourage them from visiting the tempting shop, he tells some ladies in the hairdresser that Anouk is Viannes illegitimate child. He knows that they are all too fond of gossip and that the news will get around the town very quickly. He expects them to share his disapproval.

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What adds to the conflict and makes matters worse, a large group of river-gypsies arrive and park their flotilla of boats on the outskirts of town. The Mayor declares that they are rootless, Godless people who will “contaminate the spirit of our people”. He encourages local businesses to boycott their immorality and refuse to serve them for the sake of family, church and community. Their relationship moves to the point of war and the Mayors dislike for Vianne is fueled further as she takes the opposite stance, welcoming the river-gypsies into her store and even encouraging church-minded citizens to reach out and assist the homeless group.

The relationship between the Mayor and Vianne is nothing short of impossible. Vianne is a warm, friendly woman who is willing to accept people different from herself, and has the ability to forgive others. This proves out as time goes by when the town folk grow to accept Vianne. Everyone goes to the Chocolaterie not only for the sweets, but also for the conversation and the unconditional acceptance they receive there. In contrast, the Mayor is a control freak who insists that all townspeople attend mass on Sunday. He listens to sermons, which he personally writes for the young priest in residence for less than two months. He’s miserable and lonely because his wife has left him, but he persists in saying that she is on holiday. So, the Mayor grows more and more weary as his many attempts to keep the town from visiting the Chocolaterie prove futile.

Ultimately the Mayor realizes that he has lost his battle to save the villagers from sin. He goes to church and kneels in front of the crucifix. He cries, “I feel so lost, I dont know what to do ... tell me what to do!” That night his and Vianne relationship would change. The Mayor takes a knife and breaks in to the chocolaterie. He carves up the display of Easter chocolates, laughing as he does so. Soon, however, he is crying and finally he gives way to desire and he gorges himself until he falls asleep, exhausted. In the morning, Vianne comes down to find the Mayor in the chocolate. She comforts him with Alka-Seltzer and kind words, “Dont worry - I wont tell a soul.”

The volatile relationship between the Mayor and Vianne had finally evolved into one of compassion and understanding. Probably the worst moment in the relationship was when a vigorous Anti-Immorality campaign is instigated by the mayor to encourage the departure of the river-gypsies. When Vianne chose not to participate and recruited help from some of the other town folks it tore the town apart. When the Mayor and Vianne were able to see past their difference the best of both their worlds could be realized. The formation of new relationships between the Mayor and Vianne leads to the village coming together, and the development of a true sense of tolerance and community.

Another conflicting relationship is that between Josephine and her husband Serge. Josephine is a shy loner that is widely regarded by the town folk as nothing more than a petty thief. She does little to disprove this when she has a look round at the splendid selection of chocolates she is itching to steal. She gives in to temptation and pockets a small box of sweets. Unbeknown to her, this act has not gone unnoticed by Vianne. Gracefully, she offers Josephine a similar box “on the house”. Josephine looks ashamed and rushes out of the shop. Serge on the other hand is an overbearing, loud mouth, womanizing, alcoholic that physically and verbally abuses Josephine.

Josephine and Serge relationship is founded on fear with Josephine being afraid to leave Serge. When Vianne goes to the bar that Serge owns, hoping to see Josephine and become her friend, she finds Josephine fiddling with some of her precious stolen items. She is scared, especially when Vianne sees evidence that Serge beats his wife. Vianne is not shocked by what she sees - her response is to help if she can. “Things could be different for you Josephine. Serge doesnt run the world.” Josephine replies bitterly, “He might as well.”

There is no quality I an abusive relationship and no reason for it to last. One day, Serge pushes Josephine too far. She gathers all her courage and leaves to go to her only friend, Vianne. Even after the Mayor transform Serge into a picture of respectability and contrition, teaching him manners, having him puts on a new suit and takes flowers to his wife, Serge tells Josephine “Ive changed, God has made me a new man...We are still married in the eyes of God!” But Josephine holds her ground, “Then He must be blind.”

Josephine leaving the dangerous relationship was re-enforced when Serge, not satisfied by his wifes refusal to come home, in the middle of the night breaks into the shop where she is now living and try to force her to come home. Josephine and Vianne are terrified but manage to get rid of him after a tremendous struggle. Josephine finally knows the relationship and marriage to Serge is over for good as Serge drinks himself into a stupor and is found the next morning slumped outside the shop in the village square.

There is nothing positive about the relationship between Josephine and Serge. Her worst nightmare came real when her husband started beating her. He abused her and the marriage needed to end. The bright side of for Josephine was she did find herself and the town folks started to accept her. Best of all Josephine was able to help Vianne as she and some of the towns people busily help Josephine as she prepares the chocolate sweets for the town Easter festival. It seems that they have finally accepted her.

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