Friday, June 5, 2009

CHOCOLAT - Blu-Ray (Miramax 2000) Alliance Home Video

Based on Joanne Harris’ quirky novel, director Lasse Hallstrom’s Chocolat (2000) is a sustained, often sublime comic fable set in the insular fictional French village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes in post war Europe. The film stars Juliette Binoche as Vianne Rocher – a wandering heart and current proprietor of the town’s chocolaterie. To be certain, Vianne is restless, though likable enough. However, her free spirit is judged as Godless and immoral black magic by the town's mayor, Comte Paul de Reynaud (Alfred Molina).

There may be something to the Comte’s allegations. With each new arrival to the chocolaterie, Vianne manages to create a special decadent dessert that seems to cure the worldly woes of the person who buys it. The screenplay by Robert Nelson Jacobs stops short of suggesting black magic – something the novel more directly explores – instead, coming to the conclusion that it is Vianne’s kindness and faith in humanity that makes all the difference to her patrons.

More relevant to the narrative is how Vianne’s fear of commitment, her ravenous need to endlessly uproot and relocate herself in the world just when it looks like she might make lasting friends has become harmful to the stability of her six year old daughter, Anouk (Victoire Thivisol). For now, Vianne thrives in her current establishment, serving sinfully delicious chocolate treats to the town’s parishioners. One by one, however, Vianne’s patrons are stifled in their appreciation of her skill by the Comte’s glower and his repeated attempts to influence the town against Vianne’s charm by labeling it as just another sinful act by a wanton woman.

In the meantime, Vianne befriends a young wife, Josephine Muscat (Lena Olin) whose husband, Serge (Peter Stormare) is an abusive clod that the Comte exploits to his own advantage in threatening to run Vianne out of town. Vianne also becomes an understanding surrogate to embittered diabetic Armandi Voizin (Judi Dench) whose own daughter, Francoise Drou (Helene Cardona) is determined to keep her locked away from virtually all worldly vices – including chocolate – thereby depriving the old woman of any real attempt to live life to its fullest.

The late arrival to this melodramatic feast is Roux (Johnny Depp); a riverboat gypsy who briefly plays out his romantic attachment for Vianne. In point of fact, Roux would be so good for Vianne and Anouk and perhaps even put an end to his own days as a restless wanderer of the earth. Vianne naturally resists Roux's advances; but only after each has had a taste of what life could be like together. A fire breaks out, forcing everyone to reexamine their loyalties. 

After Armandi dies peacefully at home Francoise joins the Comte's cries to have Vianne evicted from the village. But by then a most miraculous turn of events has happened. The town's folk, who were bitter and lonely before Vianne's arrival to their small enclave, have rallied their support at her side, forcing the Comte to admit that he too is compelled by her fascinating window displays of sumptuous desserts - in fact, wallowing in his own bitter surrender and stuffing his face with chocolates; thereby losing all respect and authority in Lansquenet-sous-Tannes.

Chocolat is as sumptuous, rich and satisfying as any confection on display in Vianne's shop window. With chocolate itself becoming code for uninhibited sensual pleasure, as a purely cinematic gratification, Chocolat weaves its spell as surely on the audience as the dark candied dessert eventually contributes to the degeneration of the Comte’s ironclad faux piety.

There is genuine on screen chemistry between Depp and Binoche – palpably erotic and yet, like the soft center of a bon-bon, tenderly sweet. Dench, Molina and the rest of the cast offer fine support. The screenplay takes its time, slowly enriching the tapestry of character development along the way. There is both style and substance to the piece that creates a truly heartwarming tale long overdue in American movies for some time. In the last analysis, Chocolat is elegant and charming – a great date movie with a yummy dark chocolate center.

Alliance Home Entertainment’s Blu-Ray disc moderately improves upon the Miramax Collector’s Edition released in 2002 on DVD. The 1080p transfer exhibits solid detail and natural colors that are perhaps a tad less pronounced than we’re used to seeing on Blu-Ray. Contrast levels are solid but grain appears to have been unduly scrubbed with some excessive DNR. It's not as bad as those waxy images we've seen before, but the smoothness of the image doesn't equate to sharpness or all for a lot of the fine details to shine through.

Overall, the image will not disappoint those viewing it on smaller monitors. But blown up or projected the shortcomings are quite obvious and that's a shame. There's no reason why this title could not have looked perfect on Blu-ray!  The audio is 5.1 Dolby Digital and satisfying enough. This is primarily a dialogue-driven story. There are no extras and frankly, Alliance's idea of screen menus is also pathetic!

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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