An exquisite taster
The film was released in 2000, and is a fine way to show how one charming, single mademoiselle (and simply a good person) can change the conventional life in a village, for the better.
The movie is a joint US/UK production and was considered “One of the Best Pictures of the Year” by the Los Angeles Times.
It was the 2001 Oscars— and Golden Globe-nominee for the best picture, the best leading actress (Juliette Binoche), the best supporting actress (Judi Dench), the best screenplay and the best soundtrack (Rachel Portman).
This romantic melodrama (and certainly a lovely comedy) is set in Flavigny, a French medieval city dating back to the 10th century, which portrays the placid French town of Lansquenet, where life is all peaceful and quiet. Traditions are expected to be strictly followed, and the church is its central foundation stone — around which the whole life of the village revolves, as if events took place in a somewhat medieval Europe. Nothing seems to have changed since then, nothing much… Anything that can disturb the order of things is considered a taboo, a threat, and is not welcomed by the mayor of the town, who is himself deeply religious.
Fortunately for him, so far things are going along their ordained path…
That is, until one cold winter day in 1959… a charming traveler is brought in with the sly northern wind, a wind of change… — a lady who’s going to settle in the village for a while… renting a patisserie and the apartment above it.
And from that moment on, nothing is ever going to be the same…
That very moment being the point-of-no-return, — Indeed.
The time for change comes when she opens “The Maya Chocolatier,” starting her own business in what-one-would-consider the most inappropriate place for this of all — the orthodox village. Neither is the timing perfect — with the upcoming season of the Big Lent, it becomes a major problem for the mayor. And he is going to deal with it, no matter the cost for his lovely, dear guest.
Even if it means losing her business.
But by Easter, her business is still running, whereas for the mayor things are getting out of hand.
He tries to turn the villagers against her, saying that she’s indecent; she is “a bad influence.”
But Vianne manages to make friends with almost everyone in the village, in the process — changing their lives for the better, bringing vivid colors into the previously monochrome life. In the end, she turns out to be “a good influence” after all, including the one she had made on the mayor himself.
Initially, Comte de Reynaud is strictly conservative, even austere, with a condemning look strewn over his face.
Vianne herself is by no means conventional; she’s been travelling with her daughter, living in different places, all around the world: Andalusia, Vienna, and before that — Athens, — Pavia.
At night she tells her daughter stories not of princesses and princes on white horses and in white carriages but of “The Princess and the Pirates”!
And when the mayor, welcoming them into the community, kindly invites Vianne and her daughter to Sunday Mass for worship, she thanks him for the invitation but says they don’t attend.
She then also asks him to call her Vianne, as she had never been married!
And when one of Anouk’s schoolmates asks the newcomer-girl about her father, she says that she sure has one; they just don’t know who he is.
None of this really fits into the catholic framework of the conservative, provincial town they’re guests in.
As legend has it,
“Mother and daughter… are fated to wander from village to village… dispensing ancient cacao remedies… travelling with the wind, never settling down, just as Chitza’s people had done… for generations.”
No wonder that Vianne, Chitza’s daughter, now herself a mother, wandering from village to village, from country to country, from land to land, with her daughter, Anouk, has a knack for guessing people’s favorites. Not only is each chocolate she makes a piece of art in itself, and has its own unique flavor, but she instantly knows whose favorite it is. And thus far she is doing very well.
[That is] Until… a mysterious and handsome Gipsy Roux comes ashore the dull green waters of the river on his boat. He appears to be a hard nut to crack. She just can’t seem to guess his favorite.
The handsome and brilliant Johnny Depp is at his most macho portraying Roux, playing the Spanish guitar gracefully. And by some mysterious, vague, foggy chance of fate he happens to play the same guitar tune that Vianne’s mother used to sing to her as a lullaby, in her long-time-gone childhood, — the tune a nostalgic echo of the memories, mystically, masterfully mirrored back at her many years on.
But Roux is an outsider, and making friends with him means making enemies with others; yet Vianne, interestingly, somehow seems to even welcome that challenge.
The mayor stands up to such defiance, eventually losing the battle. Feeling devastated, he finally lets things go, in the end finding himself strangely relieved.
Gradually, life in the province of Lansquenet changes unbelievably, enormously — the village is now free of the tranquillité, and Vianne — of her wanderer’s destiny. Roux is magically back in town, brought in with the southern summer breeze, and back with Vianne, to stay — she finally discovers his favorite… Josephine takes over Serge’s bar, turning it into… a new café. Pantoufle’s bad leg miraculously heals and ‘he hops off in search of new adventures.’
In the closing scene, we find the mayor’s ever-so-austere monument stretching in a fine and forgiving, lenient (if albeit somewhat indulgent), permissive and kind smile, symbolizing the Happy Ending, brilliantly mastered and achieved.
The scenery is most mysterious… and inspiring. It feels as if the wind itself is an unspoken character, a ghostly figure in the story whose (outspoken) presence indicates a twist in the story, a major change yet to come, the change that can be felt in the frosty air… noticed in the slight motion of the cameras… almost tangible, palpable, sensed…
The mysterious music — shifting from scene to scene— is yet another, everpresent character of its own. Inspiring, enlightening, and at times intriguing, it bears the Gypsie, the Spanish and the Ancient Mayan motives; creating an incredible atmosphere, introducing into this picture a unique, wonderful spirit which makes it certainly one-of-a-kind, so much filled with a European feel.
The original movie soundtrack can be deservedly considered a masterpiece in its own right.
The characters are typically European themselves, and are very natural.
The cameraman’s work is also most brilliant by far! The entire imagery is reminiscent of the medieval times… Beyond doubt, one could, truly, hardly find a French village more authentic to portray a conventional lifestyle of the French countryside in the whole of France.
So, if you get the chance, you should certainly see this movie; it is a fine film in itself, simple yet mysterious. What it has to offer is the actors’ charming and natural performances, breathtaking scenery and irresistible, vivid images of the Chocolatier. Surrender to its seductive taste and aroma. Plunge into the mysterious and legendary atmosphere of the European city covered in mist. Feel its aroma of m y s t e r y . . .
Discover the ancient Legend dating back to the Ancient Mayas that still lives on in the 20th century. Feel the delightful taste of “Chocolat”.
For it’s quite worth tasting…
delivered by Stacey Mazur