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One tranquil Sunday in 1959, a cold wind blows two strangers into a small and unsuspecting French town. With no regard for Sabbath observance, the unashamedly unwed mother and daughter rent a neglected patisserie and transform it into a chocolate shop.
Much to the disapproval of the Comte de Reynaud (Alfred Molina), the pious mayor of the conservative Catholic community, Vianne (Juliette Binoche) opens her confectionary during Lent, the religious season of abstinence. After he cautions the villagers against contaminating themselves with any of her wares, the attractive single woman finds business and friendship hard to come by. Despite this intolerance, Vianne's determination, friendly disposition, form-fitting clothes, and jaunty red high heels still defy the Mayor's perception of a miserable sinner.
Meanwhile her window display of decadent dainties continues to tempt the timid townsfolk. Extending her cocoa creations to some of the other misfit citizens, Vianne finds a loyal following with a kleptomaniac trapped in an abusive marriage (Lena Olin), her swearing and non-church-attending landlady (Judi Dench), and a man from a group of vagrant river people (Johnny Depp). Brewing concoctions she claims will awaken the passions, Vianne's handiwork captivates any who will take a bite, and begins to alter the moral fabric of the village.
Nominated for five Academy Awards, it's no coincidence that Chocolat presents the same melting pot of values as The Cider House Rules--the films share the same director. In this case, the gorgeous cinematography, smooth musical score, and milky messages of exceptionally compassionate atheists, act to sweeten the dark and extreme character exaggerations of judgmental Catholics who are either zealots or unable to think for themselves.
These ingredients, as well as the film's mature theme that purports chocolate to be an all-round aphrodisiac (exhibited by a couple having sex with momentary female nudity), and a tense scene involving an intoxicated man coming to reclaim his wife who has taken refuge in Vianne's home, may cause this eye-luring delight to leave a bitter aftertaste.
Chocolat is rated PG-13: for a scene of sensuality and some violence
Cast: Alfred Molina, Juliette Binoche, Judi Dench
Studio: (pictures (c)2000 Miramax Films)