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Chocolat on DVD

Semi-sweet Moviemaking

"Chocolat" is kind of like "the Music Man," only without the music, the exuberance, and Professor Harold Hill.

In this case, the attractive stranger is Juliet Binoche's Vianne, a kind of gypsy-guru of things chocolat, and the town she throws upside down is a little French village into which she and her daughter Anouk arrive. This is France of 1959, an uptight place dominated by the mayor (Alfred Molina) and its commitment to Catholicism.

Vianne has the audacity to open a Chocolaterie during Lent, which rubs all the usual suspects the wrong way. Her shop, and her lifestyle (she doesn't go to church and is a proud and unapologetic unwed mother) sets off a controversy that threatens to split the town in half, with the powers that be and the citizenry who blindly follow them on one side and the freer spirits on the other. Yessiree, it's liberals versus conservatives again, and you can just guess which side receives the favorable treatment.

The arrival of a group of nomadic "river rats" led by Johnny Depp doesn't help. The mayor, who happily pulls the town's strings, finds these immoral itinerants to be a threat also and organizes a boycott against them.

But Vianne's chocolates, which almost seem to have mysterious powers, continue to win over - and magically inspire - increasing numbers of villagers who start to throw off the yoke of conformity and live their lives the way they really want to regardless of peer pressure from their neighbors. It's the '60's all over again - before they even start!

The cast is excellent, particularly Binoche and Judi Dench (both of whom were nominated for Oscars for their performances). Johnny Depp makes a believable and likeable wandering Irishman (complete with accent), and Alfred Molina does a good job as the village "godfather" who does his business with gusto, yet who also carries the thankless burden of command upon his shoulders.

It's a pretty good movie, and quite enjoyable, though we daresay it isn't as good as all the hype would make out.

The DVD is presented in anamorphic widescreen, 16x9 TV compatible, with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Picture and sound quality are both excellent, and the DVD medium does good justice to the film's beautiful production design.

Extras include a "making of" documentary, feature commentary with director Lasse Hallstrom and the producers, as well as a feature on the film's costumes and another one on the production design. There are also some deleted scenes.

Chocolat, from Alliance Atlantis Home Video
122 min, anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 TV compatible,
Starring Juliet Binoche, Judi Dench, Alfred Molina, Lena Olin and Johnny Depp
Produced by David Brown, Kit Golden, Leslie Holleran
Written by Robert Nelson Jacobs, Directed by Lasse Hallstrom.


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Updated May 13, 2006