2000, Movie, PG-13, 121 mins


A trifle with substance. Many movies have been made about the redemptive power of food, but only in this latest fable from director Lasse Halström is culinary redemption ascribed to the gods. Or so suggests the literal translation of Theobroma cacao ("divine food"), the scientific name for the tree that bears the cocoa bean, the source of chocolate. It's 1959, and the sleepy French village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes is awakened — in some cases, aroused — by the arrival of Vianne Rocher (Juliette Binoche) and her chocolate confections. Vianne's a ramblin' gal of a particularly prim and proper sort; with 6-year-old daughter Anouk (Victoire Thivisol) in tow, she wanders from city to city opening chocolateries and dispensing ancient cacao remedies for heart and soul. Lansquenet's devout mayor, the Comte de Reynaud (Alfred Molina) — who watches over the town with an officious Catholic piety — doesn't approve. He views the free-spirited Vianne as a threat: How dare she tempt fasting parishioners with confections during Lent! Vianne, of course, is a threat, but less to the town's tranquility than to its look-the-other-way complacency. Little by little, her various sweets help raise the town's spirits (and other things, thanks to aphrodisiacal chocolate beans fed to unwary husbands by their wives) until the arrival of some rock-and-roll-ish river travelers, led by the Irishman Roux (Johnny Depp), leads to a momentary civil-rights crisis. Binoche, marvelously, invests Viane with enough anger and self-doubt that she's never merely an idealized wandering angel, and as a vinegary matriarch, Dame Judi Dench wrings near-impossible eloquence from such lines as, "It tastes like... I don't know." The most delicious performance, however, is Molina's: His Comte may be an oily priss and rumor-monger, but he's honorable in his intentions and never hypocritical. It's all a bit obvious and more than a little didactic, but the film still burbles with delightful dialogue and a sparkling sense of life. leave a comment --Frank Lovece

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