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"What does the chocolate do? Somehow, it seems to put people in touch with their real feelings."


Raymond Teague is the author of Reel Spirit: A Guide to Movies That
Inspire, Explore and Empower
, from Unity House. 

He is an award-winning
journalist, an editor of spiritual publications, a popular New Thought
speaker, and a lifelong movie buff. 

His book is available by clicking the "Buy the Book" link above.

  Raymond Teague, 
"Reel Spirit" Movie Reviews

(2000, 121 minutes, PG-13)

By all means, let yourself be tempted by Chocolat, a delightful, delicious, heavenly film.

Be warned, though: if you are at all partial to chocolate, it's virtually impossible to watch the movie and not start drooling for a taste.

When you can keep your mind off those cravings, you'll be treated to an enjoyable fairy tale with a sweet moral about the need to lighten our spirits by being tolerant and forgiving of one another.

Many people, you may have noticed, seem unable to relax and enjoy life. Even though scriptures talk about the "joy of the Lord," many people exempt joy from their lives and deny themselves the pleasure of seeing past people's differences. They go around with pursed lips that never open wide enough to taste the true joys of life the joys of truly loving and appreciating each other.

Such seems to be the understanding of director Lasse Hallstrom and screenwriter Robert Nelson Jacob, whose story (based on the novel by Joanne Harris) is set in a French village in 1959 where so-called tranquility has reigned for 100 years. It's a tranquility fostered by the rigidity of traditions, religion, narrow-mindedness, and fear of condemnation. 

The village mayor (Alfred Molina), who has "trusted in the wisdom of generations past," epitomizes the closed society. Into this world one day, a narrator tells us, "a sly wind blew in from the north," bringing Vianne (Juliette Binoche) and her daughter Anouk (Victorie Thivisol). Vianne is literally a breath of fresh air for the village, a free spirit, free-thinking "radical" who dares to open a chocolate shop in the village during Lent.

Vianne's arrival signals the winds of change for the village. It doesn't take long for Vianne to discover that underneath the tranquility of the village lurks intolerance, misunderstandings, injustices, hates, fears, and all sorts of deep, dark personal secrets.

Chocolate becomes a catalyst for transformation. Vianne's chocolate confections possess a "power to unlock hidden yearnings and reveal destinies." As they sample Vianne's chocolates, people find their lives changing.

What does the chocolate do? Somehow, it seems to put people in touch with their real feelings, to help them overcome inhibitions, to give them courage to fulfill their dreams, to bring out their true passions, and to help them know the love in themselves and in others. It creates, as the narrator says, "a lightening of the spirit."

The harshness of Vianne's stern landlady, Armande (Judi Dench), dissolves when she has Vianne's hot chocolate. Armande discloses that she is estranged from her daughter and is forbidden to see her grandson. More chocolate is needed all around, please. The mayor declares that Vianne and her chocolates are the enemy of the church, an institution which he runs to keep order in the village. He even alters the young priest's sermons, and as a result the priest (Hugh O'Conor) is forced to preach against Vianne, stating that "Satan wears many guises."

In truth, Vianne isn't religious in the organizational sense of the word. She doesn't attend church, but her religion is an appreciation of life and people - and people's potentials. She most certainly does exercise an influence over people, however, and people start reacting differently.

Vianne offers Armande's grandson a slice of chocolate cake, but he refuses and says he isn't supposed to have the cake. Armande says to him, "Don't worry so much about not supposed to."

A woman befriended by Vianne, Josephine (Lena Olin), stands up to her abusive husband. "We are still married in the eyes of God," the husband tells Josephine.

"Then He must be blind," she responds.

The young priest, however, who loves Elvis music, obviously relates to the natural, joyous spiritual perspective of Vianne, and, like so many others in the town, is just waiting to burst free of the village's tradition of rigidity and intolerance. He suggests to the mayor that Jesus would have welcomed Vianne, and he recalls the humanity, kindness, and tolerance of Jesus.

It seems extremely likely to this humble reviewer that Jesus would have honored Vianne's "radical" way of spreading the gospel, for he was noted as a "radical" too. I can't imagine Jesus refusing one of Vianne's chocolates -- and not coming back for more.

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