I finally got around to watching the 2000 film Chocolat. I loved it. It’s like a fairy tale. It reminded me most of The Boxtrolls, which I reviewed earlier this year (The Boxtrolls and the Happy Ending of Class). The emotional core of the film is Vianne’s first customer, Yvette who uses a special chocolate concoction to revamp her love life with her husband Alphonse. I don’t think it is about sex so much as sensuality. People can have sex without connecting with one another. Think of phone sex or pornography. But we see Yvette and Alphonse throughout the movie as a doting and happy couple. That is the magic of chocolate and Chocolat.
But I noticed that on Rotten Tomatoes, the film does not have a terribly high rating: 63%. It speaks to our culture that the overwhelming majority of negative reviews come from men. And far too many of the critical reviews are political in nature. I’m not against that in general. I write many film reviews from an explicit leftist perspective. But the reviews that I read were only implicitly political. They didn’t engage with the film’s politics. Instead, they referred to it as Jeremy Heilman does, calling it an “offensive liberal fantasy” and that it “treats Catholicism as folly.”
Most of the negative reviews come in the form presented by James Kendrick, “For all its anti-religious and anti-establishment posturing, Chocolat is terribly conventional.” But how is it anti-religious and anti-establishment? If it is, so is the 1970 holiday staple, Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town. Because the main character in the film is not Juliette Binoche’s chocolate making wanderer Vianne Rocher; it is Alfred Molina’s Comte de Reynaud, who is distorting the town and its church because of his own personal problems. Vianne may delight the town, but ultimately, it is de Reynaud whose transformation changes the town. And that transformation is not brought on by chocolate, but by his secretary Caroline telling him what everyone knows about his wife, “I don’t believe anyone would think less of you if you were to say she was never coming back.”
The problem that is evident in the “anti-establishment” complaint is that people like Vianne and Johnny Depp’s “river rat” Roux live in opposition to the establishment. They simply want to be accepted enough to exist unmolested. Some people have the gift of fitting in better than others. But as the film ably demonstrates, the church is about acceptance. From the beginning, we see that the young Father Pere Henri understands this. But he is oppressed — not by the church but by the Comte de Reynaud. And it is not out of dedication to the church or traditional ways that de Reynaud does this, but out of pain from his abandonment.
In the end, all the different factions in the film learn to live together. But this is not revolutionary. Because we do not start with a natural state. We start with a town that has been distorted by a very powerful man. When Vianne blows into town with the north wind, she brings not chaos but tranquility — a return to normality. This is something that liberals and conservatives alike should understand and celebrate.
I loved the movie. It is a rare film — a modern classic that Frank Capra would have made.
The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?” They were saying this, testing him, so that they might have grounds for accusing him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. But when they persisted in asking Him, he straightened up, and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and he was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court. Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.”