Lasse Hallstrom’s chocolat is set in a traditional French town during the 1960s. The film is based around Vianne Rocher and her daughter, Anouk, who move to the town to open a chocolate shop. The towns mayor, Count De Reynaud, quickly takes a dislike to Vianne and her shop and makes it his goal to shut it down. During the film various stories start to develop around the main one, and we get a deeper insight into the characters. Hallstrom has used many techniques throughout the film, such as costume and makeup, to explore different themes and ideas, for example control and individuality, that he believes to be important.
The film on the whole seemed very real due to the good performances from most of the cast, Judie Dench is a perfect example as she gave a great performance. She played an old woman troubled by her inability to see her grandson and suffering from diabetes, which was extremely realistic, made possible by her body language and speech. Which topped off by her emotional tie to the audience during her characters’ transition from a selfish, uncaring grumpy old woman to a humble caring grandmother made her performance all the more better. However not all of the cast made a believable performance.
Johnny Depp’s fairly average attempt at being an Irish traveller brings the audience back down to earth and reminds us that it is all fiction. His accent throughout his scenes was dreadful, made all the more worse by the way he spoke, as if his voice had a different personality from his background and his actual personality. However this did not have a huge impact on the film as his parts were rather short. Also the other actors good performances helped to keep the sense of reality alive. Hallstrom uses many techniques including symbols to help us, the audience, understand and explore different themes.
The towns statue is one of these symbols. The statue represents something solid and unchangeable, and it really does further the audiences understanding of the themes, conformity and inability to change. When Vianne starts to hit and kick the statue in a fit of rage, this is not just some random object she is hitting, the director chose her to hit the statue for she is hitting what it represents, conformity, solidity and inability to change within the town and its people. The north wind would also be classed as a symbol, as it represents freedom.
This is shown through Vianne and Anouk’s arrival to the town, they travelled using the wind to guide them, free of restricted travelling times. This also makes them free as Vianne and Anouk are not tied to only one place. However the north wind may also represent a prison, portrayed through Vianne’s decision to leave the town because of the north wind. The north wind in this case is seen as a prison and a manipulator as Vianne and Anouk are bound by its current. Hallstrom also uses the chocolate in the movie to explore the themes of temptation, desire and control.
The chocolate represents both temptation and desire, and it is these two themes which the Count despises as it is these themes that make the townspeople weak during lent. The Count however has not just fasted sweet things, such as sugar, but has eaten food to a minimum, which he thinks makes him superior to the rest of the townspeople. The last theme, control, is one the Count likes as he believes this makes him even more superior. He also tempts himself, with a a sniff of a pot of sugar, to make his self control and discipline grow stronger.
However all his temptation and desire was pent up inside and he (towards the end of the film) ultimately loses control for he raids the chocolate shop. Costume and makeup help the audience to see the individuality of the townspeople develop. For example at the beginning of the film Josephine had pale skin with layers upon layers of dull coloured clothes. As the film progresses she begins to lose layers of clothes and her skin becomes more fresh and bright. Her hair as well as her clothes also start to become more colourful and bright. The lots of layers that Josephine had on showed she wanted to hide away from the world.
But as she started to congregate with Vianne longer and longer, she became more herself and started to lose her layers as well as colour blushing from her cheeks and hair. She also started to shoe more cleavage and the colour of her clothes became brighter and brighter as Josephine became more happy as well. All this is shows how she blossomed into an individual and broke away from the collective of the townspeople. Hallstrom likes to experiment with, and use, colour to contrast people and objects between scenes in chocolat and the opening scene is no exception with this technique.
His opening shot is of the dark, dull clouds which the camera pierces through to reveal the town, surrounded by forest which is almost like an invitation into another world. The camera captures the town with an extreme long shot. The forest surrounding the town is shrouded in mist beside a river which seems to isolate the town even more from the rest of the world. It then goes on to the first shot of the townspeople entering the church. Greeted by the Count in a quite plain black suit. All of the parishioners wear a pale face as well as dull and somewhat boring clothes which hardly contrasts with the grey stone of the church.
However after these shots the director shows the audience Vianne and Anouk entering the town wearing bright red cloaks which contrasts extremely with the pale dull features of the town and its people. The closing scene however contrasts considerably with the opening. The town on the whole is brighter and more colourful. The townspeople are now completely different from the opening scene and are more individuals, with a frenzy of colours during its carnival it shows the entire town and its reform. Even the Count de Reynaud has changed and wears a cream suit rather than his old choice of black.