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73 of 77 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great emotional lift.
Lasse Hallstrom's film version of the Joanne Harris' novel Chocolat is as delightful a confection as were the heroines' chocolate creations themselves. The plot is intricate and intriguing, carrying the viewer through the emotional transformations of each of the main characters. In a sleepy medieval French town where life has assumed a repressive structure that has...
Published on October 1, 2001 by Atheen M. Wilson

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Better Than the Book
I found the DVD version of "Chocolat" to be better than the book, something that usually isn't true for me.
For one thing, the movie characters had more depth and were more likable than those in the book. Vianne, as portrayed by the beautiful Juliette Binoche, was so much more sympathetic in the movie and far less selfish than the Vianne portrayed in the book...
Published on April 3, 2002


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73 of 77 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great emotional lift., October 1, 2001
By 
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Lasse Hallstrom's film version of the Joanne Harris' novel Chocolat is as delightful a confection as were the heroines' chocolate creations themselves. The plot is intricate and intriguing, carrying the viewer through the emotional transformations of each of the main characters. In a sleepy medieval French town where life has assumed a repressive structure that has created an emotionally frozen and empty life for even the most highly placed members of its society, the heroine Vianne and her daughter arrive to set up a chocolate shop. With her wonderfully concocted sweets she manages to liberate some of the denizens of the town, revealing their potential for greater happiness. The story has a sense of myth, fantasy, and fairytale about it that leaves the viewer with a feeling of personal satisfaction.

This is a film full of strong female performers. Judi Dench is especially wonderful as a curmudgeonly elderly woman estranged from her daughter and forbidden to see her grandson. Juliette Binoche does a fine job as the heroine. She is as fragile and seductive as Monroe in some scenes and as forceful and independent as Bacall in others. Lena Olin is wonderful as the abused wife who rises from the confusion and ashes of her own ruined personality like a phoenix under the influence of the heroine.
This is one of the best movies I've seen in a ling while, and I expect to order and read the book upon which it was based--something I rarely do.
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121 of 134 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A feel good treat that�s better than the book, May 4, 2001
Last year, I reviewed the book CHOCOLAT by Joanne Harris. I'm happy to report that this film adaptation is even better than the print version. And how often can one say that with a straight face?
The film begins with a north wind blowing Vianne (Juliette Binoche) and her daughter Anouk (Victoire Thivisol) into a small French village at the very beginning of Lent, that pre-Easter period of time, which, in the Catholic liturgy, is dedicated to prayer and physical self-denial. It's not a good time for Vianne, an apparent non-Christian, to open up a chocolate shop across the town square from the church. But, she does so anyway, much to the dismay of the village mayor, the Comte de Reynaud (Alfred Molina). Reynaud is puritanically determined to shut the shop down, and Vianne is equally determined to keep it open. An irresistible force meets an immovable object.
CHOCOLAT, both the book and movie, is a whimsical comedy that blossoms as Lent progresses, and Vianne's shop becomes a place of healing and sanctuary for several of the town's troubled residents. Because Vianne's store is seen (by the local Church establishment) as diametrically opposed to the spirit of the season, the story can also be taken as a gentle fable of conflict between Christianity and paganism.
Juliette Binoche is exquisite in her role. (I think I'm in love.) Judi Dench is her usual superb best as Armande, an aged widow deprived of her grandson's company by an over-protective mother, Armande's own daughter (Carrie-Anne Moss). There's also a small role played by Leslie Caron. (Where's she been in recent years?) And Alfred Molina is positively brilliant as the uptight mayor, so dominant that he personally writes the Sunday sermons to be delivered by the local pastor, Fr. Henri, apparently only recently ordained and much in fear of the Comte. Johnny Depp has an engaging role as one member of a band of despised river gypsies just floating through.
One very good reason why CHOCOLAT the film is better than CHOCOLAT the book is the added dimension of visualization which the former imparts to several elements of the storyline, specifically the mysterious wind that blew our heroine into town, Anouk's pet Pantoufle, the delectable chocolates themselves (seductively arrayed in the shop window), and the climax of the conflict between Vianne and the Comte.
CHOCOLAT the film is one that will have the audience leaving the theater feeling good, and maybe wishing for a cup of Vianne's hot chocolate with a pinch of cayenne pepper. I can't recommend this cinematic gem enough.
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Melts in Your Mouth, Not in Your Hand, November 3, 2001
By 
This review is from: Chocolat [VHS] (VHS Tape)
Joanne Harris, the writer of the novel, Chocolat, is apparently a confectionery genius, for this story leaves a wonderful taste in your mouth. Although I have not read the novel, the movie is delightfully rich and creamy.
Vianne (Juliette Binoche) is a "chocolatier extraordinaire," having the best chocolate in all of France and possibly the entire world. She and daughter, Anouk, set up shop in a small French village rife with religious zealots led by the mayor, Comte de Reynaud (Alfred Molina), who is intent on keeping the town chocolate-less. It is the timeless game of religious piety versus sincere brotherly love as portrayed in the lead characters.
Vianne seeks to sweeten the lives of the villagers in town with her secret panacea, especially the religious rejects like Armande Voizin (Judi Dench). She is a crusty old woman, the antipathy of her daughter, forbidden to see her own grandson living in town. Moreover, there is an abused wife (Lena Olin), who finds refuge from her husband, not in the church, but in the chocolate shop. And finally, if this is not enough to drive a group of religious fundamentalists insane, there is Roux (Johnny Depp), a member of the River Rats, a nomadic tribe of gypsies, who develops an interest in Vianne. What will become of this little village? Will chocolate win out in the end, or will the town remain a traditional vanilla?
Binoche is sweeter than chocolate in the lead role, and equally impressive is Molina in his role as the mayor. Judi Dench and Lena Olin put in outstanding performances in their supporting roles as well.
This is a movie with substance, dealing with societal issues; and furthermore, showing the power of human kindness and tolerance for those with differing lifestyles. This one melts in your mouth, not in your hand.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As Scrumptious as Chocolate itself, June 3, 2001
First big suprise with this film was that it was filmed in English language, not French, so there are no subtitles. I've read that more and more movies are being shot in the English language simply because the potential box office profit is so much huger. Put simply, this is a delightful film which many critics are probably grading downwards because it is "just" a simple story that is simply (but beautifully) told. I am hardly ready to number myself among them! Lasse Hallestrom, who first distinguished himself with the marvelous "My Life As A Dog," knows his way around a film script and with actors and it shows. Playing much like a fable or fairy tale, Juliette Binoche is a woman, Vianne, who wanders from place to place with her daughter, Anouk, setting up shop as a chocolatier. This time she sets up shop in a peaceful French village in the winter of 1959. Delightful as the love story portion is with the river rat, Gypsy-like Johnny Depp, it is the hilarious war waged on Binoche by the town's mayor, played by Alfred Molina, who will reduce you to complete gut-busting laughter. His wife left him and his inability to deal with that fact fuels a lot of his animosity towards Vianne and the general air of sensual repression he wishes to foster in the village. All of the villagers are delightful characters and Binoche is pulled into relationships with them. If you need to brighten up your day, this is the movie to get.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A bittersweet tale enhanced by a superb ensemble cast, May 12, 2001
"Chocolat" tells a fable-like story of a young single mother (played by Juliette Binoche) who, with her young daughter, drifts into a small French village in the mid-20th century. She sets up a chocolate shop, but her efforts to bring some fun to the repressed villagers bring her into conflict with the town's tyrannical mayor (well played by Alfred Molina).
"Chocolat" is beautiful to see and hear. The fanciful sets and the playful score by Rachel Portman enhance the fairy tale atmosphere of the story. Although there are some unsatisfying loose threads in the script, the story as a whole is delightful. And while the film's message--about the importance of tolerance--may be a bit obvious, it's still worth thinking about.
Director Lasse Hallstrom showed his skill at handling a large ensemble cast in "the Cider House Rules," and he does an equally satisfying job here. And what a cast! Juliette Binoche is excellent in the lead role; both elegant and earthy, she is an enthralling screen presence. The great Judi Dench sinks her teeth into a supporting role as a grouchy landlady who has a tender spot for her young grandson. Johnny Depp is charming as Binoche's love interest, and Hugh O'Conor is absolutely delightful as the baby-faced village priest who secretly loves the music of Elvis.
To sum up, "Chocolat" is an appealing comedy-drama with some real touches of magic.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Chocolate reforms the church!, November 5, 2004
This review is from: Chocolat [VHS] (VHS Tape)
This is an American movie directed by Swedish born director Lasse Hallstrom (The Cider House Rules, 1999; Something to Talk About, 1995), set in France with a distinct French flavor. The cast, headed by the very talented Juliette Binoche as Vianne Rocher, a wandering proprietress of chocolate, is highly accomplished and very much worth watching. Judi Dench has a substantial role as the cranky Armande, and Johnny Depp makes a belated appearance as Binoche's love interest, Roux, the River Rat. Alfred Molina plays the small town's semi-fascist Catholic mayor, Comte Paul de Reynaud. With his slicked-back, straight black hair and the precise black mustache and his imposing countenance, one is somehow reminded of Count Dracula. Leslie Caron (An American in Paris, 1951; The L-Shaped Room, 1963), now in her seventies, has a small part as the widow Madame Audel. Carrie Anne-Moss of Matrix fame (but I recall her most memorably in Memento, 2000) plays Armande's strait-laced and estranged daughter. Noteworthy is the captivating Victoire Thivisol as Anouk Rocher, Vianne's nine-year-old daughter. Thivisol won the best actress award at the Venice Film Festival in 1996 for her work as a four-year-old (!) in Ponette (1996). She is surely the youngest actor ever to win such an award.

Chocolat is also a kind of modern Dionysian morality tale in reverse with the Catholic church and small town narrow-mindedness as the bad guys. It gets more than a bit sappy at times, and the unrelenting celebration of outsiders and non-conformists is wearisome and sorely tried my patience throughout. However, just as is the case with chocolate with its uplifting qualities amidst the lure to overindulgence, the good surely outweighs the bad. Hallstrom is an ambitious director who is comfortable playing to an adult feminist audience. He attempts the complex and the unlikely. Here, there is more than the usual Hollywood seduction of the intended audience. There is underneath the surface a strong symbolic presence, giving the story a kind of resonating, fairy tale existence.

Chocolate of course serves as the Dionysian wine, but it is also a semi-addictive substance from a tropical American plant, the cacao, rich in sumptuous oils and theobromine, a heart and general nervous system stimulant similar to caffeine. Cocoa was the first stimulant drink to break the unrelenting hold of beer and wine on the European palate. It was quickly followed by coffee and tea. Prior to the rise of these cerebral drinks, it was commonplace for Europeans to drink beer for breakfast, and indeed to drink beer and wine throughout the day. Many believe that caffeine was a handmaiden of the Renaissance, which of course led to the eventual weakening of the hold of the Roman Catholic church. Vianne, who is the daughter of a central American mother and a European father, represents the shamanism of the New World, leading the populace away from the narrow confines of the medieval mentality with her irresistible confections made with the seed of Theoboma cacao.

The problem with the movie, and the reason it did not achieve a more wide-spread acclaim, lay not only with its cloyingly unbalanced feminist viewpoint and its anti-Catholicism, but with the difficulty Binoche (and Hallstrom) had with her complex role. Her character is a woman who wants desperately to find a place in society and to be accepted by the petite bourgeoisie while maintaining her personal sense of value (and her red shoes!). She is, in a sense, a gypsy fortune teller (recall the spinning plates) who longs to be a pillar of the community. She is worldly wise, kind and forgiving, but partly a shopkeeper with a shopkeeper's need to set down roots. She is also a Mayan princess born to wander with the sly wind that ushers her about. So, underneath all else, this is a story about finding a home. Because Vianne is frequently attacked for her lifestyle while being the sort of person who does not return insult with insult, Binoche is reduced in many scenes to a kind of tolerant, slightly superior, patient smile that becomes wearying. It is only when Johnny Depp appears that we see the real Juliette Binoche and a true indication of her ability. Incidentally Depp is excellent as a gypsy musician who understands himself and his place as a counter balance to a conservative society. He is an inspiration to Vianne because he alone is not transparent to her; she only discovers his "favorite" chocolate by happenstance after two wrong guesses. Depp also serves to save this film from the near monotony of inadequate males and dissatisfied females. When he appears I can almost hear the audience sigh.

Incidentally, you might want to compare this to Babette's Feast (1987) in which the narrow-minded and in need of liberation are northern Protestants, while the woman with the tempting goodies is an exiled Catholic chef from France. If Hallstrom had taken a clue from Gabriel Axel, who directed Babette's Feast, and followed a more objective and balanced treatment, Chocolat might have been a great movie. As it is, it is a very interesting one, and one you're not likely to forget or to feel neutral about.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A story of enlightment that hardly ever faults, April 7, 2001
By 
Chocolat
Score: 83/100
"That day, the towners not only heard a song of church, but an enlightening of the spirit," is a memorable line said late in the magical film that is Chocolat. The quote in the film kind of rings out to the entire movie - the day that you see Chocolat, it won't just be any movie, it'll be an enlightening, refreshing experience that you're sure to like.
1960, small town France. Vianne Rocher (Juliette Binoche) and her pre-teen daughter Anouk (Victoire Thivisol) move into town and open a chocolate shop just as lent is beginning. The town's small-minded mayor can't accept this and does his best to shut her down, but her warm personality and incredible chocolates manage to win over many townsfolk. Things get shaken up even more when a group of river drifters, led by Roux (Johnny Depp), stop into town (to the even greater distress of the mayor) and Vianne takes up with him. Meanwhile, she's been helping Josephine (Lena Olin) out of her abusive marriage and her equally freethinking landlord, Amande Voisin (Judi Dench) get together with her grandson, Luc (Aurelien Parent-Koeing), whose mother doesn't approve of Amande's ways.
The film is overflowing with it's share of brains and complete maturity throughout the character's hard situations. The actors all play these interesting people to absolute perfection, Juliette Binoche shines brighter than she ever has as the eager Vianne, and Judi Dench is her classical self as Armande. Also, actors that didn't get nominated for Academy Awards (Binoche and Dench did) also put in heaps of effort, Lena Olin is believable and eye-widening as Josephine and Johnny Depp as Roux...well, his coolness just goes without saying. The film has a rich and tasty feel to it, you can almost taste the chocolate Vianne is cooking, oh yes...when the cameramen allow the eye of the camera to go on the silky chocolate swishing through the cooking objects and breaking on the bowl, wow, I tell ya, you better be prepared to drool not only at the film and the chocolate, but it's ingredients and content.
Chocolat is a greatly intriguing piece of work, one that is endlessly delightful, and only contains a pinch of a fault.
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44 of 52 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Gentle Tale of Lent and Chocolate, November 11, 2004
This adaptation of Joanne Harris's novel lacks the seductive charm and magic of the original, but it succeeds on its own as a quiet film about a French village rife with personal crises. When the mysterious Vianne (Juliette Binoche) and her daughter Anouk (Victoire Thivisol), dressed in red capes, arrive in town on a day the wind from the North gusts open the church doors, interrupting the sermon on the first day of Lent, something begins to stir. The pious mayor (Alfred Molina) knows it better than anyone. Vianne opens a chocolaterie, serving up exotic confections designed to bring out the best in people, and relationships in the grim town shift. Vianne seems immune to her own magic - until a band of gypsies and their leader Roux (Johnny Depp) set up camp on the edge of town.

Director Lasse Hallstrom excels in his evocation of a small French village in 1959 and the people inhabiting it. Despite its Swedish director, British author, and international cast, this film feels authentically French. Its rhythms are mostly gentle, and its focus is on character rather than an intricate plot. Juliette Binoche turns in a fine performance, even though her smile at times seems too vapid and easy for such a complicated character. Judi Dench makes a memorable appearance as Vianne's landlady, a crotchety but spirited old woman who is estranged from her uptight daughter (Carrie-Anne Moss) and her grandson. John Wood and Lena Olin also turn in strong supporting roles.

Art house film addicts will want to see this, but more mainstream viewers may be bored. Recommended for viewers who enjoy the leisurely unfolding of a quiet drama.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars FEAST AND FABLE, May 17, 2001
By 
Chris House (Dunedin, New Zealand) - See all my reviews
FEAST AND FABLE
Movie Review of Chocolat
Chocolat is a sumptuous feast for those with a cinematic sweet tooth. A single mother (Juliette Binoche) driven by the restless wanderlust of her Navaho mother's spirit, moves to a quiet French town with her six year old daughter and opens a chocolate shop in the middle of Lent, the Catholic fast before Easter. Her free spirited atheism enrages the sanctimonious mayor (Alfred Molina), and a battle commences for the hearts and minds of the villagers.
There is magic swirling around Binoche and her chocolatery, blurring the lines between real and unreal and giving the story the feel of a fable. However the gritty performance of Lena Olin as a battered wife keeps it from floating too far from earth. Swedish director Lasse Hallström (My Life as a Dog) once again paints a convincingly chilly portrait of small town life, aided by the capable acting of Binoche, Judi Dench and Johnny Depp in particular. Be warned, however, the real star of this movie is the chocolate. Don't go on an empty stomach or you may find yourself worryingly distracted from the narrative flow. The story is light on dramatic urgency, but the cast stirs in their own spicy fruit into the half-baked script and the result is delicious enough to satisfy the most gluttonous of appetites.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tantalizingly sweet movie on temptations and morality, June 17, 2001
By 
Desmond Chan (Bishan North Singapore) - See all my reviews
Chocolat is set in a small town in Framce, where Juliette Binoche plays Vianne and her little girl, Anouk transforms the convention upon opening their confectionary shop that threatens the local mayor (played by Alfred Molina) and his rigid hold on propriety. The movie, directed by Lasse Hallstrom falls no short of magical charm - and plays it well sublimely with a great supporting ensemble like Judi Dench, Carrie Anne Moss and Johnny depp as Roux, her love interest to branch the subplots that made the movie a tantalizing delight.
It is the acting that shines, Binoche plays Vianne with a subtle charm and resilience that illuminates alongside with Lena Olin as a battered wife. Judi Dench spices the screem with wit and hard emotions and Alfred Molina is aptly casted as the mayor with the prim and proper decorum. Chocolat is simple as a story that dissects the quandry between temptations and morality, and a lighthearted note on human emotions. Forgivance is seen in the mother and daughter feud, hope when Vianne sees Josephine (Lena Olin) as a friend. It is all heartwarming and yet the correct amount of saccharine to make this movie a delight. Not forgetting the passionate Johnny Depp as her love interest, yes predictible though it may be, Chocolat is indubitably spellbinding with charms.
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Chocolat
Chocolat by Binoche (DVD - 2011)
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