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In a small old-fashioned French town, single-mother Vianne (Juliette Binoche) arrives with her six-year-old daughter, and opens up a chocolate shop. Vianne creates some mouth-watering sweets which inspire the usually dull villagers to indulge their temptations and experience some true happiness. But it is only when handsome stranger Roux (Johnny Depp) arrives in the village that Vianne begins to recognise her own desires. Judi Dench won best supporting actress Oscar for her portrayal of Armande Voisin, the freethinking landlady.
Chocolat is an enchanting, moving and heart-warming tale of love and temptation, a big-budget movie with its roots in European art house cinema. Magical and almost fairytale-like in theme, it's the story of the mysterious Vianne and her arrival in a quiet, old-fashioned French town at the end of the 1950s. Gradually her attitude to life and the delicacies that she prepares in her chocolate shop have a marked effect on the local people, bound as they are by the twin forces of religion and politics.
Juliette Binoche is perfect in the role of the sensuous, captivating Vianne--a masterstroke of casting matched by the performance of Judi Dench as the splendidly grumpy but ultimately inspiring matriarch Armande. Very much an ensemble piece, the whole cast are indeed excellent, with Johnny Depp (making a fair fist of an Irish accent) superb as the drifter Roux, the one man capable of unlocking Vianne's own desires. From its majestic opening swoop to the final, joyous scene, Lasse Hallström's film, based on the bestselling novel, is nothing short of a masterpiece.
On the DVD: As befits such a film, the DVD is an elegant, well thought out package. The movie itself is a visual feast, a combination of a beautiful setting, rich, opulent colours and textures and a mystical atmosphere. There's a range of documentary features examining the style of the film and its background, as well as an audio commentary and some excellent scenes deleted from the final cut. More in-depth notes are to be found in the accompanying booklet and the whole thing adds up to one of the most satisfying DVD releases in a long time. In one of the accompanying documentaries, Depp wonders if it is possible to create art through cinema. It may be a difficult task, but Chocolat is proof that it can be done.--Phil Udell
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