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A VERY PLEASANT CONFECTION...
on 30 September 2001
This is a pleasant, though obvious, adult fable, broadly hinting at the often sensual, restorative, and mystical properties of chocolate. A beautiful and mysterious woman, Vianne, delightfully played by the winsome Juliette Binoche, along with her daughter, Anouk, arrive in a remote and very provincial French town, where she rents a patisserie from an elderly, crotchety woman, magnificently played by Judi Dench, and turns it into a chocolatier. From here, she concocts visually dazzling, mouthwatering amounts of chocolates, along with copious cups of hot cocoa made from a very special recipe, that are always sold or given by Vianne with a Julia Roberts style, mega watt smile. Vianne is always kind, compassionate, and tolerant. She is, therefore, a person to be feared by those who lack those traits. That is why she is greeted with bare civility by the town's mayor, wonderfully played by the always underrated, very talented Alfred Molina. He is a sanctimonious, intolerant, unhappy, religious prig, who insists on writing the sermons for the town's young, beleagured priest. Offended by Vianne's easy charm and her resistance to his invitation to attend church services, the mayor, whose hardened exterior hides a profound sorrow, declares war on Vianne, as he perceives her to be a threat to his established order of things.
Meanwhile, Vianne finally warms up and disarms her crotchety landlady, jumpstarts a tired marriage for two villagers, and befriends a battered woman, played with appropriate pathos, delicacy, and spirit by Lena Olin. She also manages a flirtation with an Irish drifter named Roux, well played by Johnny Depp, though they seem to lack chemistry together. She gains the confidence of those willing to become friendly with her through the mystical properties of her chocolates and hot cocoa, changing their lives forever. Though the mayor has vowed to drive Vianne's business into the ground and run her out of town, Vianne hangs on, determined to stay until the North winds blow her and her daughter to yet another unhappy town. What happens in this town, however, ultimately changes the lives of its mayor, the villagers, and even Vianne, forever.
This is a lovely, well acted, and moderately entertaining film, that thematically deals with the mystical, sensual, and palliative properties of chocolate. It is a frothy, pleasant confection. If you want a film, dealing with a similar theme, that will fully satisfy an appetite, however, one need look no further than the superb film, "Like Water for Chocolate".