In ‘Chocolat’, Vianne comes- with her little daughter Anouk in tow- to the sleepy, moody, God-fearing little town of Lansquenet in France. A drifter, a traveller, and a maker of fortunes, she shakes things up immediately by opening up a decadently-good chocolaterie, in the middle of Lent. But the chocolaterie is more than what it first appears- in reality, Vianne’s chocolates contain magic, spark, and excitement, that gives the good little villagers of Lansquenet a taste of what they’ve been missing.
In a sea of prim coats, shoes, berets, neat jewellery and elegantly coiffed hair, Vianne is a streak of wild colour- gypsy headscarves, long Indian-patterned skirts with bells, and plenty of vibrant red. Her daughter too, dreams of being a pirate and is chased around by an adorable imaginary friend, or totem- a rabbit named Pantoufle.
Gradually, they settle in- despite many odds- and make friends- in particular, a handsome river-boat dweller named Roux (played in the movie by Johnny Depp) and one crochety old woman named Armande, (Judi Dench) who may or may not have a secret magic of her own.
But in the sterile, domineering figure of the local priest, Vianne also makes a dangerous enemy. Her confidence, vibrancy and her magic handfuls of cantrips, charms and chocolates is tested by the sheer force of his fervent belief that outsiders are not welcome. He makes an impresssive character, but to me it is Vianne- the eternal outsider, the talented drifter, the rootless rebel- who is truly memorable. The language is sensual, evocative, unnervingly good and dripping with imagery.
Both the book and the film are fantastic- ok, so the film plays around with Vianne’s back story and simplifies the plot a little (taking out a nasty secret of the priest’s)- but to me, the novel itself shines just as brightly as the foil around one of Vianne’s chocolate truffles. Vianne is, in one word, ‘magnifique.’