Lasse Hallström's last film, The Cider House Rules, was the nicest film about abortion and incest that you could possibly imagine. Chocolat, his latest, also leaves you feeling warm inside.Robert Nelson Jacobs has adapted Joanne Harris's bestselling novel with some surprising changes, although the basic story remains the same. Vianne (Juliette Binoche) and her young daughter sweep into a provincial French village with the north wind. The stern Comte de Reynaud (Alfred Molina) is the mayor, and self-appointed moral guardian, of the villagers. When Vianne opens a chocalaterie on the town square during Lent, de Reynaud feels his authority threatened and does everything in his power to undermine her.
Jacobs has reduced the spiritual and religious aspects of the story (de Reynaud is no longer the priest, for instance) and set the story (arbitrarily) in 1959. The core of the fable - sensuality and tolerance versus repression and hypocrisy - remains, but Hallström and Jacobs have so lightened Chocolat it's in danger of floating away.There are compensations in the casting and look of the film. Lena Olin, Judi Dench and Carrie-Anne Moss all give fine supporting performances. The production and set designers (led by David Gropman) have lent a magical aspect to the French locations. Rachel Portman's score is varied and lively. I was most impressed by Roger Pratt's rich cinematography (he also shot The End of the Affair). The interiors in the film positively glow.