Chocolat (2000)

(In theaters, July 2001) It’s a shame that films are limited to sight and sound (with the occasional bass-driven tactile vibration) when seeing food, but hey—hearing my dieting female companion coo in envy at every single chocolate shot of the film almost made up for it. The initial structure of the film will be instantly familiar; an uptight community gradually liberated by an outsider. (In this case, a chocolatière -the wonderful Juliette Binoche- deftly stuffing our prudish cast with sinful chocolate). Strong symbolism, and it’s hard to see where you could go wrong with it. But it does, as soon as a second outsider comes in (Johnny Depp, with a good performance in a useless role) and mucks up what had been up to then a relatively clear narration. Blame it on the original novel if you must, but a large part of the film’s appeal simply runs on empty whenever Depp’s character is around. The other big flaw of the film is its very deliberate nature, where even the tragedies are carefully metered out in portions designed to thrill without offending anyone. You could say that the film feels designed for Oscar, and you wouldn’t be totally wrong. Still, once you get past that, the film still feels delicious in a completely non-challenging way. It reinforces liberal thinking, makes you hungry and won’t offend anyone: Follow it up by a trip to the ice cream parlor and you have an instant great date.

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