A Chocolat Laced with Poison
Chocolat reviewed by Marian T. Horvat, Ph.D.
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A new PG-13 movie with the enticing name of Chocolat is receiving good press as a “delightful fable” screened on site in France in the charming fictional French village of Lansquenet. The characters are amusing and engaging, the plot at times banal and boring, but, all in all, many reviews are calling it a welcome bit of good harmless fun for the family.
A good friend asked me to go with her to see the film and then write a review. It’s an attack on everything traditionalists stand for, she said, the Ten Commandments, Catholic traditions, hierarchy, family, conventions, you name it. And it promotes everything we’re fighting: feminism, new age magic, uncontrolled spontaneity, limitless freedom, diversity, tolerance, inclusiveness, you name it. And all very subtly done to make the good appear to be the evil, and the evil to be the good. Not a new technique, but always effective.
In fact, the movie has much allure. First, there are tantalizing scenes of rich chocolate-in-the-making and enticing finished products, which, unfortunately, even with all the technological advances in modern movie theaters, one still cannot taste. There are attractive characters:
The heroine Vianne Rocher, serves a very bitter chocolate for Catholics...
And for anyone, like me, who delights in France, there are many scenes from a typical French village where all of life turns around the Church and the noble in his elegant manor.
- The Heroine Vianne Rocher (Juliette Binoche), the beautiful and unpretentiously elegant proprietress of the chocolate shop, and her charming daughter Anouk, with her fantastical kangaroo.
- The Villain, the elegant but stiff-laced traditional Count (Alfred Molina), who is the real lord of a little French village.
- A good supporting cast awaiting Vianne’s “liberation chocology,” which includes an appealing timid young boy, gifted with a talent for drawing but warped by the prejudices and inhibitions of his conservative mother. (Now doesn’t that sound familiar?)
The story is simple. This village was very religious, very traditionalist. Every family attended Mass, tried to be faithful to Church decrees, and followed the Sunday orientation of the young priest, who, in his turn, was directed by the stronger personality of the self-righteous Comte de Reynaud.
And then one day, a strong north wind began to blow. The wind mysteriously carried on its wings the simpatica unwed mother Vianne and her winsome daughter. They blew in like nomads, but nomads with a particular and curious concern: to open a chocolate shop in the pious village during the holy season of Lent. This was already a shocking novelty. And then, a second novelty: the lovely Vianne Rocher was not Catholic and did not care about the Lenten rules of fast. Little by little, armed with her goodhearted generosity and irresistible morsels, she began to break down the natural local “prejudices” against indulging in sinful pleasures in Lent.
Now, this chocolate was more than delicious. Vianne’s father was a pharmacist who had traveled to South America to discover ancient formulas of the Mayan Indians for his remedies. One night, the young man drank a mysterious chocolate beverage, which “unlocked his hidden yearnings.” It is not difficult to imagine that he met eyes with a beautiful young Mayan woman, fell in love, married her, and brought her back to France. But the alluring Mayan pagan could not bear conventional life with her pharmacist husband, whom she left, following a mysterious call of the north wind to travel from town to town with her daughter (Vianne), curing neuroses and phobias with the magical chocolate formula.
This is the recipe that Vianne would offer everywhere she alighted, carried by the wings of the wind. Now, in Lansquenet, she became the agent who administered the magic chocolate to liberate the repressed normality of an abused wife, draw out the young boy suffering under his rigid mother, and release amorous sentiments from the subconscious of the repressed pre-Vatican II citizenry. Vianne, the unwed pagan mother, is presented as the agent of good who chips away with her chocolate at the social prejudices that hold back the normal development of the personality. A palatable, but none the less objectionable, “diversity-education” program.
Naturally, the success of the chocolate shop grew, along with the “conversions” worked by Vianne. The Villain, the Comte de Reynaud, whose “fanatical” Catholic ancestors once chased the radical Huguenots from the village, remained faithful to the Church’s Lenten fast and traditions. With God on his side, he launched a war to drive the sin-inducing shop out of business.
But, in the end, even the Count fell under the spell of the chocolate. On Holy Saturday, in an indignant fury, he broke into Vianne’s shop to destroy a naked chocolate figure in the window display. After many blows against the immoral “idol,” one little piece of chocolate fell on his lips. Its simple contact with his tongue was enough to break all of his habitual self-mastery and ceremony, all of his proud and noble composure. Like a greedy child, he gorged himself in an unseemly manner. After this wild release of pent-up yearnings, deliriously satiated, he slept stupidly in the window alongside the pieces of the naked statue he had destroyed. Both “idols” were broken…
After the Count’s “defeat,” the whole village returned to its “normality”– now presented as a much more healthy and happy normality since everyone’s natural instincts had been liberated. The north wind blew again, and a mysterious voice called the beautiful half-Mayan woman to travel to another town with her spells and chocolates. But this time, Vianne, in her turn, experienced a kind of conversion and left aside her wanderlust to become a normal person in the newly “liberated” village. If the Mayan magic conquered the Catholic prejudices, in the end, all are conquered by the “healthy” vision of a rational life of mutual tolerance and acceptance.
In my point of view, three messages stand out in this film that does no favors for Catholics:
First, the principles of Christian Civilization and the Catholic Religion would be artificial. The Church would be a tool of the nobility to maintain their power and influence over the people.
Second, the magic and occult “science” of the Indians, presented in this delicious and charming way, counters the horrendous visages and primitive appearances of the savage witchdoctors. In fact, the superstitions and magic of the Mayans even seem superior in a certain way to the holy laws and customs of the Catholic Church. The perfect solution of the storybook ending, however, would be a peaceful co-existence where neither claims superiority.
Third, the underlying theme would be the principle of of liberation of our repressed instincts. That is to say, man would not have bad tendencies (original sin). What would make him bad are the repressive mechanisms of control “invented” by the Church and society. Released from them, he would be free and good. If everything were permitted, everyone would be normal and happy. That is to say, the poisonous doctrine of Freud that wants to liberate all the instincts is the deepest message hidden inside the delicious Chocolat.
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