As the North Wind blows through the seemingly tranquil traditional French village of Lansquenet, it brings with it a mysterious traveler, Vianne Rocher (Juliette Binoche), and her daughter, Anouk (Victoire Thivisol). Vianne opens a chocolaterie filled with irresistible confections that awaken the townspeople’s hidden appetites. But the mayor of Lansquenet, the Comte de Reynaud (Alfred Molina), is convinced that Vianne’s sumptuous chocolate will wreak havoc with the town and undermine their strict religious code of morality.
Somehow religious dogma had become so strict among the citizens of Lansquenet that exclusion became more important than inclusion. For once these characters turned their backs on vice, they also began turning their backs on those with vices. The mayor’s pious and controlling underlying attitude began to surface to reveal hatred not just for sin, but also for the sinner. “Chocolat” brilliantly reminds us of how easy it is to become so sanctimonious that we neglect to love one another. And it does so with exceptional performances and a storyline complete with enough twists and turns to keep you glued to the screen. And if you love confections lovingly made with sumptuous, creamy choclate, this film will be difficult to resist. (I just know some critics will call it “delectable.”) Although the filmmakers make a valid point about religious doctrines often replacing Christian charity within Christian gatherings, unfortunately, they do so in a rather bitter way. The film and its director seem bent on challenging not just the foibles of Christians, but Christianity itself. True, there is a brief final moment where the local priest begins to bring the Gospel back to his sermons, but it is too little too late. It is the heroine, a non-conformist who never attends church, who becomes the community’s savior. While the town leaders are stuck in church dogma much like the Pharisees, it is the film’s humanist who is both wise and righteous. And no, she is not a Christ figure. While Christ was concerned with renewing our relationship with the Creator, the film’s heroine travels from town to town bent on releasing pent-up desires through pop women’s empowerment. For her, there seems to be no need to bridle some temptations. She is not apologetic for her lifestyle, which has included several sexual affairs and produced a child out of wedlock. While I would hesitate to judge her, it does weaken a society’s standard of morality to accept those practices as alternate lifestyles. And like it or not, a society must have standards. Directed by Lasse Hallstrom (“The Cider House Rules” – a movie that also portrays Christians as unfeeling hypocrites) and produced by filmmakers Harvey and Bob Weinstein, who, while they have made some remarkable films (“Mansfield Park,” “Enchanted April”), have managed to prejudicially influence society against Christianity wherever possible (“Shakespeare In Love,” The Cider House Rules”). The Weinstein’s bigotry against believers and misconception of what it means to be a follower of Christ is not only arrogant, but also myopic. Certainly there are people in the Catholic church with little understanding of what it means to be a Christian (just as in any Protestant denomination), but would you characterize Mother Teresa as faithless? Or Father Damion? Of course not. They are examples of millions of Catholics who place Christ first in their lives. But the Weinstein brothers prefer to mock and attack hypocrites rather than acknowledge those who practice their faith. Can you imagine the flak Miramax would receive if the heroine had been determined to undermine the beliefs of any other group such as gays, African Americans, or Jews? Wouldn’t it then be viewed as prejudicial and dangerous?