Tuesday, February 2, 2016


Standard preface: Dame Judy Dench can do no wrong.

Okay, let's get into it.

Chocolat is a movie starring Juliette Binoche, Judy Dench, Alfred Molina, Johnny Depp (in a surprisingly small bit role), and other actors that I'm not personally familiar with.  It involves a young woman with strong Pagan beliefs moving into a small French village with her daughter and drawing the ire of the strict, religious Comte de Reynauld and other people in the village until her exotic chocolate recipes steadily start to win people over.

It's a very good movie, though I understand there's a considerable controversy surrounding its multiple academy award nominations (other than the one for Judy Dench, naturally), but honestly, I don't care about all that.  It's a good movie with lovely set pieces, superb acting from wonderful stars, but there's something I want to focus on in this review.

Why is restraint always the villain in so many movies?

I mean, okay.  I get why restraint is the villain so often.  We go to the movies to escape from the every day mundane, to get to live vicariously through action stars who never face real consequences of their actions.  They get to celebrate a freedom we don't have, so to have a hero who doesn't act out, always follows the rules, and triumphs over those who are actively living their lives would have to be done extremely carefully.

By "carefully" I mean you have to make sure it isn't preachy.

I know such movies exist.  I've seen them on religious television networks, warning people about how terrible things will happen to those who live in sin.  However, I find myself frequently thinking back to the fable of the grasshopper and the ant.  The grasshopper at no point was portrayed as being evil.  The ant didn't gloat over the misfortune that eventually befell the grasshopper (at least not in the versions I remember hearing).  You simply learned that the ant was better prepared for the inevitable (the seasonal change) and was able to be comfortable while the grasshopper almost starved to death because he was being irresponsible.

That's the kind of movie I don't think I see reach the same heights as your typical escapist fare unless, as I mentioned before, it's overly religious and (in my opinion) heavy-handed.

This isn't the same thing as the oft-used "emotions vs. stoicism" theme that runs through many movies and television shows, where emotions can often lead to, say, the "Dark Side" but being stoic and logical can keep you in the light.  I'm talking more about indulgences, living freely instead of under tight constraints of law, religion, or some other controlling force.

I'm honestly trying to think of a movie where a majority of the characters simply live wild, hedonistic lives and have to become aware that there needs to be temperance in order to fully enjoy things.  Not solid law, but simply restraint and self-control.  If anybody can think of anything like that, please mention it in the comments.

But back to the movie,  Alfred Molina, in my eyes, stole the film.  He's wonderfully wicked in his machinations, but the movie gives him miles of pathos as you learn about his wife (who seems to be permanently vacationing away from him) and see that he wants people to be happy, he just doesn't want things that keep the village from being "just so."  It's when he realizes how people can take and interpret his messages that he becomes aware of just how extreme he can be and it starts to break him, leading to a total collapse late in the film he needs to rebuild himself from.

Of course, naturally, chocolate is involved, because it's one of the few temptations in life most people will agree are fully worth it.

As a fan of movies that feature food, I found myself thoroughly enjoying Chocolat, and it simply reaffirmed how much I love seeing Alfred Molina and Judy Dench in anything.  While it did wander a bit into the fantastic in what I assumed to be a standard, mundane setting (particularly a little throw-away scene at the end that was cute but rather jarring), it kept characters down to earth and believable, with mystical and magical simply being stand-ins for "exotic" and "foreign."

Also, it might be one of the most minor parts I've seen Johnny Depp do.  The poster would have you believe that he's a major star, but he doesn't even show up until a good ways into the movie, at which point he seems to mostly be a way of developing Juliette Binoche's character further.

Addendum: I can think of one instance where a character had to discover that indulging themselves had a time and a place, and that was one episode of Tiny Toon Adventures.  If I remember correctly, Babs Bunny decides to go to Wackyland because she wants to be a clown and goof off all the time, but when she decides she's tired, the other characters around her want to keep going, leading her to realize what her friends had been feeling the whole time.

I- I need better references.

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