Review by Dave Smith
A lot of movies have been made dealing with the mysterious properties of Chocolate. From "Willie Wonka" to "Like Water for Chocolate" we have been dipped in the wonders of chocolate. However none of the movies have quite had the effect of the latest..."Chocolat." Here we have a film which attacks religious bigotry, wife abuse, discrimination against the elderly and a lot of other things. How are these things solved...through the use of chocolate. It seems Juliette Binoche has this recipe handed down through generations and it's her duty to travel around the countryside spreading it's healing properties. Her little daughter, played very well by Victoire Thivisol, travels with her. They both blow into town in a mysterious wind, wearing red coats and hoods. She rents a little shop from Judi Dench, stirs up a batch of chocolate and is open for business. She runs into trouble immediately, primarily from the Mayor who objects to her selling chocolate during lent. Alfred Molina is wonderful in his role of the self-righteous Mayor. Remember him in "Enchanted April?"
Director Lasse Halstrom (who gave us the wonderful "Cider House Rules") has cast his wife, Lena Olin as an abused wife who is befriended by Binoche. This is a reversal of their roles in "The Unbearable Lightness of Being." The wife abuser is played by that wonderful villain Peter Stormare. Remember him as the crazed killer at the woodchopper in "Fargo?" Johnny Depp is not required to do much other than "be cute." We were delighted to see the luminous Leslie Caron in a cameo as a grieving widow. She has aged well. Judi Dench is great as the grandmother who is refused the right to see her grandson and is being pushed into a "nursing home" by her daughter. Dench deserves an oscar nomination for this role but she did not deserve it for "Shakespeare in Love." Her role in that film was nothing more than a cameo and the academy did a disservice by giving her the oscar over others who were more worthy.
Binoche is good, but as she said herself, "I know who'll get the oscar." Julia Roberts has a lock on it. "Chocolat" may not be as good as 1992's "Like Water for Chocolate" primarily because it's just too sweet for a lot of people's taste. But for those who prefer the sweet over the bittersweet...indulge yourself!