Monday, 21 April 2014

"Chocolat" on BLU RAY – A Review Of The 2000 Lasse Hallstrom Film

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"…Live A Little!" – Chocolat on BLU RAY

Every one of the dry-as-a-leaf townsfolk in Mayor Comte De Reynaud's sleepy French hamlet "...knows their place in the scheme of things..." And if they forget their Christian values preached to them weekly in the stone cold church - the good Mayor is there to give the new young priest of 5 weeks (Hugh O'Connor) a helping hand with his sermons - and thereby get 'their' obedient flock back on the moral straight and narrow. Reynaud also waits patently and penitently for his wife to return from one of her interminable 'trips' - watched over his devoted secretary Caroline (the beautiful Carrie Anne Moss). But perhaps the hard-working and essentially decent Mayor (a fabulous turn by England's Alfred Molina) should just chill out and "measure goodness by what we embrace" - or maybe even recognize the lovely Caroline's devotion as genuine and worthy. But the Comte is too busy being pious and upright for the entire town - to engage in something that life-enhancing and delicious...

Besides that's the least of his carnal worries - because a sly wind is blowing in from the North - bringing with it a voluptuous woman of independent-mind (Juliette Binoche) who is going to open a decadent nay sinful chocolate parlour in Lent - a time of abstinence, reflection and tranquillity. And when this shop "Choclataire Maya" opens - Mayor Reynaud knows deep down in his starched flannel trousers that it will seduce the town - especially the women. And the next thing you know - they'll be shagging their husbands senseless again - leaving the drunken abusive ones behind (Peter Stormare as Serge) - cavorting with travelling river people who play guitars and talk in odd Irish accents (Johnny Depp as Roux) and generally enjoying all manner of lurid sensory pleasure. "It's important to now one's enemy..." the Mayor muses ominously.

Adapted from Joanne Harris' beloved novel by Robert Nelson Jacobs - Lasse Hallstrom's feature film (he also did "The Cider House Rules" - see separate review) garnished five Academy Award nominations - including one for Best Movie. And it's easy to see why. It has a magical and very visual story with fantastically strong parts for women. And it has chocolate - lots and lots of sweets, biscuits, cake and chocolate. You can get fat just looking at this film.

The cast is varied and uniformly superb: French acting and dancing legend Leslie Caron is an elderly town lady admired and longed for by Monsieur Bierot (a lovely show by England's John Wood). There's Judy Dench in full-on spiky mode as the ballsy old biddy Armande (nominated for Supporting Actress - her dialogue titles this review) who rents out the former patisserie to Mademoiselle Vianne (Juliet Binoche in luminous form). Vianne's dreamy daughter Anouk (a delightful Victoire Thivisol) plays with an imaginary kangaroo - but is tired of wandering from town to town with her rootless mother - prone to leaving in an instant when the wind tells her to go.

But as mum's culinary skills with South American cocoa and the dark evil liquid begins to affect the town folk in positive ways - especially a broken lady called Josephine (Lena Olin - who is Lasse Hallstrom's wife in real life) - the wandering Vianne senses that perhaps this hamlet is where her roots should be planted. In fact perhaps the town and its earnest but lost Mayor need her. And there's also the added enticement of that handsome rogue the Deppster to deal with - all gypsy and sexy shirts and dishevelled hair and guitars and good with fixing doors and making her daughter happy. Easy to resist

Defaulted to Aspect ratio 1.78:1 - the BLU RAY picture fills the entire screen (no bars bottom or top) - but is a strange mixture of the ordinary and exceptional. I suspect in order to give the movie that slightly dreamy feel - there is a soft focus on a lot of it - and subtle grain is ever present. But there are also moments that are truly beautiful when you least expect it - down by the river at night, the feast to celebrate a 70th birthday in the garden, Alfred Molina trying to turn Serge into a gentleman in his home. It doesn't ever look bad - it's just not as stunning as you'd expect such a sensuous film to be.

Audio is DTS-HD Master Audio Surround 5.1 and Subtitles are in English and English For The Hearing Impaired (a poor showing fro such an International film frankly). The Extras feature all the principal actors as well as legendary Hollywood Producer David Brown (Jaws, The Verdict, A Few Good Men).

"Chocolat" is a classy piece of filmmaking - a sensory uplifting watch with passion truffles, cups of chilli-flavoured hot chocolate and Nipples of Venus.

Give it a nibble you sinners...

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