The Johnny Depp Archive

Chocolat (2000)

Starring: Johnny Depp, Juliette Binoche, Judi Dench, Alfred Molina, Lena Olina, Carrie-Anne Moss

Directed by: Lasse Hallström

Rating: 1 2 3 4 5

Chocolat sees Johnny Depp reunited with What's Eating Gilbert Grape? director Lasse Hallström (not to mention The Ninth Gate and Dead Man co-stars Lena Olin and Alfred Molina). Like Gilbert Grape, nothing much actually happens in the film, yet guided by Hallström's sure and steady hand, we slowly come to know and love a set of unique and fascinating characters, each of whom experiences a beautiful and irrevocable change taking place in their lives.

Juliette Binoche as Vianne and Johnny Depp as Roux in Chocolat

The film is set in the late 1950s, in a small, tranquil town in rural France. Set a top a hill beside a river, with its medieval walls and red roofed stone houses, the town is picture perfect, and yet life is not all it could be for the inhabitants. It's the kind of place where everybody knows everybody else's business and nobody dares step out of line. Under the strict rule of the fastidious Comte De Reynaud (Alfred Molina), the townsfolk go to church, toe the line and keep up appearances at all times. Never mind that the owner of the local café beats his wife, Josephine (Lena Olin), that the Comte's secretary, Caroline (Carrie-Anne Moss), is trying to push her resistant mother, Armande (Judi Dench), into an old people's home whilst keeping her apart from her grandson, or that the Comte's own wife has left him and is gadding about in Italy. As long as things are respectable on the surface, all is well.

And then the North Wind blows a stranger into the town (Juliette Binoche), a stranger who sets up a shop the like of which the townsfolk have never seen before. A chocolaterie.

Oh boy! The good townspeople are not the only ones to be mesmerised by the richness of the stranger, wares. Never since Charlie and the Chocolate Factory have such tasty delights been seen on screen. Mm-mm!

Vianne sets up shop

Yet the stranger, Vianne, is not just there to dispense hot chocolate and cake. Oh no. Like Michael Landon with cocoa beans, no sooner has she arrived than she sets about putting the lives of the townspeople to rights. Gradually, despite the fact that it's Lent and sweet things are banned, the town's inhabitants succumb to the lure of the chocolaterie, where, melting in the warmth of Vianne's bright personality, they feel able to reveal their true desires. Next thing we know, downtrodden Josephine has left her abusive husband and is learning to make ganache and truffles, curmudgeonly Armande is united with her grandson and lonely elderly residents are falling in love and discovering a whole new lease of life. Highway to chocolate heaven indeed...

Roux and Vianne: maybe tomorrow they'll learn to settle down...

Yet for all her good deeds, something is missing in Vianne's life. Compelled to travel from town to town across Europe, with her protesting daughter Anouk in tow, she has yet to find stability and love. Well, fortunately for Vianne, love soon comes along in the form of Johnny Depp (some girls have all the luck). As the devastatingly handsome river gypsy Roux, he sails into town on his ramshackle barge and sets up camp by the city walls, much to the disgust of the Comte and co. The couple are immediately drawn to each other, and yet, like Vianne, Roux lives by the mantra of the Littlest Hobo: maybe tomorrow he'll learn to settle down, but 'til then, he'll just keep moving on. And before we know it, he is gone.

And soon the restless North Wind is blowing again, and Vianne too must contemplate moving on, just as the town is starting to take her to its heart. Will she leave, dragging a reluctant Anouk behind? Or will she stay and build a stable life for herself? Will the lovely Roux return the following summer.? Well, you know I hate spoilers but if I tell you that this film has one of the most warmly satisfying happy endings I've ever seen, will that give you a clue?

Judi Dench as Armande Voisin

Can you guess I love this film? It's gorgeous. Delightful. It's got chocolate and it's got Johnny Depp - what more could a girl want? But that aside, the setting is beautiful, the script intelligent and witty and the casting absolutely spot on. Juliette Binoche is perfect as the warm-hearted free spirit Vianne (even if she does look strangely like Brenda Blethyn) and Johnny is at his most charming as Roux. Sporting a passable Irish accent and a very sexy tan, he may only be on screen for 17 minutes, but he's every bit as much of a treat as the chocolate, believe me. And we get to hear him play the guitar - very well, incidentally. Judi Dench is always marvellous and makes no exception here, whilst Alfred Molina brings alive the stuffy character of the Comte, who wants so much to do the right thing but goes about it in all the wrong ways.

Like Vianne, Hallström creates a fairy tale concoction that is delicious yet, sprinkled with a spry sense of chilli pepper humour, never overly sweet or sickening. My advice? Try it - it may become your favourite.

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