“”Chocolat”” blends reality and fantasy in a depiction of a French town seemingly devoid of passion. This begins to change as single mother Vianne (Juliette Binoche) comes in with her daughter (and the wind) and proceeds to open up a chocolate shop at the same time Lent begins.
The conflict arises when Comte de Reynaud (Alfred Molina) recognizes the presence of temptation in Vianne and her chocolates (which have various magical attributes). Soon a battle ensues between the purity of willpower and the sinful pleasure of giving in.
The film features strong performances all around, though special mention should be given to those who take their characters up a notch.
For example, Judi Dench was excellent playing Armande, the landlady renting out to Vianne.
She’s enjoyable in that gruff, live-while-you-can way reminiscent of “”Grumpy Old Men.”” Also, Molina’s personal struggle with temptation as the pious Comte de Reynaud is as real as it can get. He fights against desire for the town but it’s clear from the beginning that he’s fighting for himself as well.
The narrative style and presence of fantasy give the story a fable-like edge. The issues Chocolat contends with are ancient. It’s the solution proposed that is unique.
There’s a reason this film was nominated for Best Picture — see it.
— Eric Dean
Enemy at the Gates
“”Enemy at the Gates”” does well in presenting a picture of a war-torn time but struggles with details of individual characters.
The setting is Stalingrad, 1942. The Russian army is depleted and falling fast to the Nazis. It lacks hope and a hero. That hero becomes Vasili (Jude Law), a humble sniper. Eventually, he is opposed by his Nazi counterpart, Konig (Ed Harris). The winner of their snipe-off will turn the tide of the war. In addition, there is a love triangle involving Vasili, Danilov (Joseph Fiennes) and Tania (Rachel Weisz), a triangle of which Danilov gets less than 60 degrees: Tania does not love him as he loves her.
The movie loses points for wasting Harris’ talents — Darth Maul had more lines. It also fails to play up the love triangle. Fiennes has the most intriguing character, yet he never gets to confront Vasili and Tania at the same time. I got tired of the eyeball shots, and the originality of sniping lost its flair after an hour. I actually found myself wanting to see more love stuff and less sniping. That’s where the best acting was.
Director Jean-Jacques Annaud’s empty-colored vision of crumbling Stalingrad, several intense war scenes and the suspense between sharpshooters were all plusses. Also, Vasili and Tania’s sex scene occurred in a unique and provocative way — based on its location. The Russians were the good guys for once, too.
This picture just might be worth a shot. Pun intended.
— Eric Dean