First thing I think about when I hear the movie 'Chocolat' mentioned isn't that Johnny Depp is in it sporting a very suave ponytail, it's the conversation that Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd) and Sydney Fife (Jason Segel) have about it in 'I Love You, Man'. The crux of that argument is how I feel about 'Chocolat.' Sydney's basic argument is that the movie sounds far too chick-flicky to even take serious, while Peter describes it as a heartfelt movie that may take the viewer by surprise. At the end of the film, Sydney confesses that he ended up watching 'Chocolat' and describes it as "just delightful." And so it is, on the outside 'Chocolat' seems like a movie created in order for women to swoon over a pre-Jack Sparrow Depp. In the end, however, 'Chocolat' grows on you. It sucks you in with its whimsy and keeps you fascinated by its various assortments of chocolate treats.
Vianne (Juliette Binoche) and her daughter are wanderers. They blow from town to town, not ever staying too long in one place. They happen upon a French village where people take the edicts of their religion very seriously. The entire town is getting ready for the season of Lent, but Vianne moves in and starts up a chocolate shop. Her assorted confections prove to be tempting for the townspeople during their time of going without.
The town is ruled over by a staunchly religious man, Comte de Reynaud (Alfred Molina), who follows his religion because he likes its structure rather than believing – or even caring about – its true purpose. As soon as the chocolate shop opens he declares an all out war on the sweet morsels of sin. Is it because he hates chocolate? No. Who hates chocolate? It's because he can. Reynaud is a man who enjoys the power he can flaunt and wield over the east-to-convince townsfolk. He uses their religion to guilt them into things they don't necessarily want to do.
Is 'Chocolat' a testament against religion as a whole? I wouldn't say it is. It depicts a war between religious folks and the hedonists of the world, but never really declares a victor. Instead I think that the reason for 'Chocolat's being, and the spirit of its message as a whole, is that following a set of predetermined rules can lead to an almost zombie-like society. It's not that religion is bad and that the lack of it is good, it's just that if people don't think about why they're acting a certain way then there's something wrong with the equation.
Watching Molina stomp around town trying to scare the villagers into not partaking in chocolate is funny. Molina is a true character actor. He disappears into any role, not matter how miniscule. He's what drives the movie, even though Binoche and Depp are displayed so prominently on the cover. Without him there is no movie. Vianne moves into the village, sets up shop, and sells chocolate by the pound just because it's chocolate.
Lasse Hallström gives the movie a much needed dream-like feel. It helps air out the more intensely honest scenes, and counteracts the rather weighty morals being put forward.
'Chocolat' is easily enjoyable. A movie that swims around in your head like a sweet (pun intended) dream. I echo the sentiments of Sydney Fife. At first 'Chocolat' sounds like another slog through a formulaic chick-flick, but after you watch, it's hard not to describe it as delightful. Just delightful.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Chocolat' is a Miramax/Lionsgate title. It's been brought to Blu-ray in a standard Blu-ray case, housed on a 50GB Dual Layer disc. The back of the case indicates a region A release only.
By nature 'Chocolat' has always had a diffused, dream-like look to it. It adds to its whimsical feel and is completely a product of the movie's source material. So it's no surprise that the 1080p high definition transfer of the movie is a little light when it comes to revealing fine detail or strong vibrant colors.
There's a fuzzy softness that's draped over the entire presentation. Again, this really shouldn't be thought of as a weakness in the transfer or encode, it's just how the movie looks. It's not the high-def pop we're always searching for, but it accurately represents the movie. Colors are light, but crisp. Blacks are never bottomless, but they do a fine job even though they appear a tad bit lighter than we've become accustomed to on this format. Edges are well defined at times, but other times diffused white light breaks up edges making them a little harder to discern. Mid-range photography lacks the kind of detail we've come to expect from Blu-ray, but when the camera gets in close, fine facial and textual details are clearly there. There are a few anomalies as well. Crushing is a frequent annoyance, but it could be caused because of the look of the film. Blacks just aren't as dark and delineated as is the norm. Digital noise spikes during darker scenes. Banding and aliasing are kept at bay though, which is very nice.
All in all, a solid presentation for a movie that wasn't made to look spectacularly clear in any format. Fans of the movie will be pleased with the way this one has turned out.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is another example of the source material being presented as it was meant to be, but never nearing the blow-your-socks-off stage.
'Chocolat' is a somber affair with a fanciful soundtrack and little, to no, special effects that need any sort of bombastic audio mix. Dialogue is always clear and concise. Directionality works perfectly whenever characters speak out of frame. Rachel Portman's memorable and charming soundtrack is given ample room to breath as it's spread throughout the channels. LFE is light and really only engages itself during the scene with the fire where things become more intense and life threatening. Besides that we're left with a talkative affair where everything is presented just as it was intended.
It may not be flashy or full of pomp, but this mix gets things done.
It's rather easy to go into a film like 'Chocolat' with preconceived notions. The cover features Juliette Binoche coyly feeding a piece of chocolate to a effortlessly debonair Johnny Depp. See how that could be a movie that may give men the wrong idea? Deep down, 'Chocolat' is about so much more. A microcosm introspection of the pitfalls of following rules rigidly without remembering the spirit that was intended to go along with them. The Blu-ray features video and audio that won't blow you away, but will give you an accurate representation of the movie's look and sound. The special features aren't expansive, but cover the basics. Overall, this Blu-ray release of 'Chocolat' comes recommended. Just delightful.