Chocolat, 2000, starring Juliette Binoche, Judi Dench and Johnny Depp, is a heartwarming movie dealing with expat issues on several levels.
Vianne Rocher is the daughter of a French pharmacist and a South American woman whose people are missionaries. Not religious missionaries, but, following the north wind, Chitza and her people spread the good news about chocolate and bring cacao-based remedies to people in need. Following in her mother’s footsteps, Vianne becomes a missionary expat who uses chocolate to help people solve their problems.
One cold winter day in 1960, Vianne and her daughter Anouk arrive in a small French village and take over the lease of the local patisserie (bakery).
“Once upon a time, there was a quiet little village in the French countryside, whose people believed in Tranquilité – Tranquility. If you lived in this village, you understood what was expected of you. You knew your place in the scheme of things. And if you happened to forget, someone would help remind you.”
However, Vianne antagonizes the village mayor, the Comte de Reynaud, when she turns down his invitation to worship with the rest of the village in the Catholic Church, and then opens a Chocolaterie just before the start of Lent.
Vianne befriends and helps several of the villagers. One of Vianne’s new friends is Josephine, married to an abusive husband, Serge. Josephine leaves Serge and moves in with Vianne and Anouk, and helps Vianne in the store.
Early in the spring, another band of expats sails into the life of the village, arriving in their houseboats on the river. Reynaud the mayor tries to drive them away as well.
Vianne and Roux, the leader of the boat gypsies, become friends. (Roux is obviously an adventurer expat!) Separately and together they upset the “tranquilité” of the quiet little village.
Serge sets fire to the houseboats, effectively driving the gypsies away, but the Chocolaterie remains. In a fit of rage, frustration, and Lent-induced food deprivation, the mayor breaks into the Chocolaterie the night before Easter and destroys Vianne’s window display.
Her kindness to him when he is discovered, wins him over completely. Vianne and Anouk stay in the village, having finally found a home after a lifetime of wandering from place to place. Then Roux returns early one morning, and the movie ends with Vianne, Roux and Anouk drinking hot chocolate together.
Chocolat features three generations of expat women in one family. Although Vianne’s mother Chitza had died some years before the movie starts, she plays a central role. Chitza had chosen to move from place to place, having left her husband when Vianne was little. However, Vianne has been less willing to move and has been doing so only in obedience to her (dead!) mother. In truth, Vianne has been looking for someplace to call home. And Anouk hates moving and desperately wants to belong somewhere. Roux asks Vianne, “How does Anouk feel about it? . . . All the moving around.” Vianne answers, “Oh, she’s fine. She handles it beautifully, she makes friends easily, she’s such an unusual . . . She hates it. She hates it.”
Roux is another expat. His motivation is not as clear as Vianne’s. At one point he asks her, “Why do you give a damn about what these narrow-minded villagers think?” She doesn’t answer. After the boats are destroyed, Vianne tells Roux, “Your boat. . . you’ve lost your home.” He responds, “No, just a way to get from place to place, really.” In the end, it seems that Roux is willing to stop going from place to place as well.
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