Merci Pour Le Chocolat

2000, Movie, NR, 99 mins

Review

MERCI POUR LE CHOCOLAT | NIGHTCAP
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An entertaining, if ultimately minor, thriller from Nouvelle Vague veteran Claude Chabrol. After a few years of divorce, Marie-Claire "Maki" Muller (Isabelle Huppert), heir to her family's Swiss chocolate empire, and her ex-husband, renowned concert pianist Andre Polonski (Jacques Dutronc), have decided to give their marriage another try. This is Andre's third time around; his first wife, Maki's best friend Lisabeth, was killed years earlier after falling asleep behind the wheel of her car. Meanwhile, in another part of Lausanne, 18-year-old aspiring pianist Jeanne Pollet (Anna Mouglais) and her widowed mother, renowned forensic scientist Louise (Brigitte Catillon), are having lunch when the mother of Jeanne's boyfriend, Axel (Mathieu Simonet), lets slip a Pollet family secret. The night Jeanne was born, there was a little misunderstanding at the hospital, and for a brief moment it was feared that the Pollet's baby had been switched with the newborn of another couple — Lisabeth and Andre Polonksi. Louise assures Jeanne that the matter was cleared up on the spot, but Jeanne can't help but wonder: What if her father is really Andre Polonski? That would explain her own passion for the piano, as well as her striking resemblance to the late Lisabeth. Jeanne decides to visit the Polonskis, and Andre is genuinely delighted to meet her, immediately insisting that she play something for him. But while she receives a seemingly warm welcome from Maki, something's not quite right. She notices Maki deliberately knocking over a newly prepared thermos of chocolate destined for Andre's son (or is he?) Guillaume (Rodolphe Pauly). Jeanne takes a sample of the spilled beverage to Axel, who works as an intern at her mother's lab, and Axel finds traces of a substance not ordinarily found in hot chocolate — a drug that proves to be the secret ingredient of Maki's special recipe. Based on the little-known novel The Chocolate Cobweb, by American mystery writer Charlotte Armstrong, the film is ridiculously overplotted, and very little of the plot serves any purpose other than to motivate what you can pretty well guess is going to happen from the outset. Dutronc is something of a liability — he seems a little too tired to react to anything with much conviction — but it's clear why Huppert continues to be Chabrol's star of choice. She's as chicly outfitted and coldly calculating as the film itself, and is, as always, more than enough reason to watch. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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