Few things can stir up strong emotions in us like food can. The rush of nostalgia and the lump you get in your throat when you eat something that resembles your mother’s cooking? Ever found the world to be a little less intimidating after a plate or two of pizza, pasta, or even a bowl of the humble khichdi? That’s the power of food at work. Food as a catalyst for social change and revolt? This is the central theme in the 2000 British-American romcom drama Chocolat, based on the eponymous novel by Joanne Harris.
Chocolat is about an expert confectioner and chocolatiere Vianne Rocher (played by Juliette Binoche) and her daughter Anouk (Victoire Thivisol) who arrive in the fictional French town of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes and much to the chagrin of the local townspeople, open up a chocolaterie. This seemingly innocuous act sparks a change and begins to influence the lives of everyone around them.
Vianne’s relative flamboyant dressing, and the fact that she is an unwed mother doesn’t seem to sit too well with Comte de Reynaud, the village head and mayor who feels she is a misfit and is breaking tradition. Add to that, Vianne’s chocolaterie opens just before the 40 days of Lent, and her proposal to organise a chocolate festival on Easter Sunday ruffles quite a few feathers. The arrival of an Roma gypsy Roux (played by Johnny Depp) and their whirlwind courtship adds to the intrigue of the story.
The townspeople slowly begin confiding in Vianne – housewives, landladies and widowers alike falling under the spell of her delectable creations. Dame Judi Dench as Vianne’s eccentric landlady Armande is a treat to watch, as is Alfred Molina as Comte de Reynaud, the village head.
This film is a treat to watch because of the nuanced performances and the concept of food being a social catalyst and a harbinger of change. We always steer clear of the unfamiliar, hesitant to embrace it because we don’t know what it will bring. This holds true for my recent cookbook trials as well – these are choppy waters for me as well. But there is a revelation waiting on the other side – and most of the times it is a positive one. It released almost 20 years ago – but is still a treat to watch!