‘Chocolat’ a film directed by Lasse Hallstrom, centres around a small village by which on the surface may seem peaceful and in ‘tranquillity’ but beyond the surface lay many individuals and larger groups of people, families, face issues of isolation, acceptance and tolerance within the community. These major themes are portrayed through animated actors whom Hallstrom accentuates these ideas through filmic techniques. Isolation a major issue in this film and Hallstrom has conveyed this idea constantly throughout the film.
The introduction of the film has shot the village from bird’s eye view and these continuous overhead shots express the isolation and disconnection the village has from the rest of the country. The scenery of mountains and large landscapes of forestry and the long river depict a peacefulness and tranquillity and also at the same time creating a sense of vastness and distance this village has from the busy civilisation of France. Vianne and her daughter Anouk are travellers and foreign to the village, were foreshadowed to be isolated individuals before they even stepped into the village.
The voice over narrated, ” there was once a quiet little village where people believed in tranquillity” and the slam of the church doors were magnified and the effect of the silence that came afterwards with long shots of the front of the church established the ‘tranquillity” and also the force of law and order in this village- everyone had attended church, no one was outside with other plans to do. The traditional hymn of the church was contrasted against the ethereal music and the wind sounds that weaved through the preacher’s speech.
This wind signified a change. The voice over explained, ” villagers held to their traditions until a sly wind blew in from the north” and a point of view shot from the wind’s perspective pushing the church doors open interrupting the silence and the preach further stresses the disturbance and changes that will occur to the village. The costuming of Vianne and Anouk represents the difference to the village as they arrived with their bright red hoods contrasting the bland, white background.
As Vianne and Anouk prepare the opening of their shop, they are avoided by many of the villagers due to the negative comments spread by the Comte de The repetition of the lines, “I heard she was a… ” with several shots of different people one after the other emphasises the disconnection they have with Vianne. Vianne not attending church created further reason for the villagers to isolate themselves from her. Although Vianne is isolated from the community there are individuals within the community whom are isolated as well.
Armand, a seventy-year old lady with diabetes, opened up to Vianne about her isolation and disassociation with her family, especially her grandson- Luke, due to conflicting personalities and views between her daughter, Caroline, and herself. The tension is evident between the mother and daughter when Luke is caught spending time with Armande. Close up shots of Armande’s and Caroline’s facial expressions demonstrated the hostility they held for each other. A full shot of both women with a wide space between them showed that not only they were physically distant but their relationship with each other is flawed.
Luke, grandson of Armand, is also isolated not only from his grandmother but from his peers as well due to Caroline’s protectiveness. As Luke looks from inside through his window to where the children are playing in the snow, sounds of the children’s laughter and screams are muffled as if to put the audience in Luke’s shoes, feeling lonely, caged and having lack of fun and freedom. Josephine is also an important character who experience isolation. Josephine was insecure and living in fear under the same roof of her abusive husband.
She was isolated in terms of unable to confide to a friend and she found her release instead by stealing small items. A close up shot of Josephine in church stealing a mirror from someone’s purse, and a faint smile formed on her face from the thrill of getting away with something was her release. When Josephine finally confined to Vianne about the lack of power and inequality in the relationship with her husband, we have a medium shot of her, sucessfully capturing her body language, fidgety fingers and her facial expressions displaying the enormous stress and pressure she is experience.
In this film, a lack of tolerance is immense in the community of this village, Comte de Renou is intolerance at its depleting level yet the irony of him being ” a patient man”, and “If I were the first Comte de Renou I would have had you out of this village as quick as you came”. Due to the Comte’s influence the villagers have avoided the chocolate cafe and is further emphasised by a shot from the inside window display of the shop with the people peering inside with curious but wary glances but never coming close to entering the shop.
The tolerance that the Comte the Renou has in the act of fasting due to religious reasons. The zoom in and focusing of the enticing food that lay on his desk only to be blocked by a photo frame. A close up on his facial expression fighting the need to discipline his body after taking a deep sniff in a jam jar shows his immense ability of tolerance and control within himself. The relationship between Armande and Caroline are the perfect example of intolerance of each other. Long shots and full shots always view these women with much distance between themselves.
Josephine is an individual who had endured and tolerated much under the roof of her abusive husband. When Josephine had confided to Vianne of the impossible deeds and chores she had to follow it also expressed the lack of power Josephine had over herself- much like what most women had experience in marriages at that time, “You must think I’m stupid… but men do run the world” she explained. In the middle of the night Josephine pounded on Vianne’s door and a full shot of Josephine with her suitcase conveyed the rebelliousness and a decision Josephine made on her own will and the intolerance of living in fear.
Although the villagers have tried to disassociate themselves from the chocolate cafe, they began to fall in love with Vianne’s chocolate and charm and have begun to tolerate their associations with her. These confused villagers have all frequented to the confessional about their sins, Hallstrom shot their confessions from behind the confession screen with a continuous fade in and fade out of each person’s confession about the temptation and satisfaction that received from tasting her chocolates, emphasising the effect Vianne has had to these villagers.
Immediate action to rid off the gypsies when they settled on the river’s edge strongly expressed the prejudice the Comte de Renou and majority of the villagers had towards the gypsies. Labelling them as ‘river-rats’ and ‘drifters’ did not win the council over on approval to ostracise the gypsies because they were not on their ‘property’ by law. Due to the unsuccessful action, Comte de Renou had initiated flyers of “boycotting immorality” as the alienation and exclusion of the gypsies will bound to be successful.
Shots of the fliers repeatedly being stuck on, nailed in, glued signified the participation of all villagers, except Vianne, and the lack of tolerance they hold to the outsiders. The acceptance of Vianne was a slow progress but the ice-breaker between herself and the community was by hosting Armande’s seventieth birthday party. Slow motion and extreme close-ups on the guests faces showed the great appreciation and enjoyment of the food and the respect and acceptance of Vianne.
The announcement of dessert being held on Roux’s boat had the guests in silence and in hesitation but they had accepted and long shots of the scene of the people dancing to lively music with laughter on the boat demonstrated there was no longer a barrier between the gypsies and villagers. Josephine had embarked on a transformation. She is dressed in bright clothing; emphasising change, she no longer speaks in a hurried and timid tone, and smiles and laughs often. Josephine had stood up for herself instead of fleeing from a situation as seen in the scene where Georges is hit over on the head by a pan by her.
Josephine had come to an acceptance of herself and has become a happier and better woman. Due to Luke’s disobedience Caroline has opened her eyes. A long shot of her mother and son having fun and over the long distance between them at Armande’s party again shows their distant relationship with the other, but a close-up on the look the women shared was a mesmerising conundrum. Caroline has come to realisation and acceptance that caging her son did not made him a happy child, and the next scene that involved Caroline was of her fixing a bicycle for Luke.
The Comte de Renou had come to terms of acceptance of his broken marriage and Vianne. The Comte lost all sense of control and smashed Vianne’s window display in rage, but he gave into himself when an extreme close up on his lip and tongue licking a small speck of chocolate emphasised the humanity in the Comte. The morning the Comte woke up a high angle shot of him looking up to Vianne conveyed the extreme vulnerability and the reversed roles in this situation.
The Comte gives Vianne a genuine smile at the Easter celebration, but the voice over narrates, “he took another seven months to ask Caroline out”. Vianne herself had accepted that belonging to a community is what satisfies her. The act of Vianne refusing the north wind and finally the action of her opening the window and throwing her mother’s ashes into the air symbolised the release of Vianne, the freedom her mother as the ashes are recorded flying into the wide open sky. Vianne has truly accepted that she is happiest when she belongs to a community.