Directed by Lasse Hallstrom. Starring Juliette Binoche, Johnny Depp, Lena Olin and Dame Judi Dench
An amazing cast, an intriguing premise and glorious cinematography – what does it all add up to? In the case of Chocolat, the new film from Swedish director Lasse Hallstrom ('The Cider House Rules', 'What's Eating Gilbert Grape' and, of course, 'ABBA: The Movie'), not a whole lot. In fact, it's rather like biting into an Easter egg - it looks great but is ultimately empty.
Based on the best selling novel by Joanne Harris, 'Chocolat' falls far short of the sum of its parts. In a magical Mary Poppins manner, the mysterious Vianne (Juliette Binoche) and her eight-year-old daughter, Anouk (Victoire Thivisol) are blown by the North wind into the sleepy French village of Lasquenet. A descendent of the chocolate-worshiping Mayans, Vianne opens a Chocolaterie in the town on the eve of Lent. She possesses a talent for choosing each person's favourite chocolate, according to their secret desires: cocoa nibs to replace the lost passion in a marriage or a chocolate drink spiced with chilie for a self-described 'cranky old lady'.
People consume Vianne's confections and their lives are magically changed for the better. This is observed by the town's self-denying catholic mayor (Alfred Molina) who labels her a troublemaker and conspires with the new priest (a very young and innocent-looking Hugh O'Connor) to keep the townspeople away from the mouthwatering wares of the Chocolaterie. The struggle between restraint and liberation reaches its zenith when other outsiders reach the town. Vianne befriends Roux (Johnny Depp), a rootless, apparently Irish gipsy and there are tragic consequences, not least as she falls in love and is unprepared to stop running away despite the cost to both her and her daughter.
Despite a luminous performance by Juliette Binoche as part of an outstanding cast – especially notable are Lena Olin as the abused wife, Josephine, and Judi Dench who plays Armande, an irascible and independent old lady – 'Chocolat' ultimately outstays its welcome.