Tatcho Drom
Journeying Journals of a Jolly Journeyman

Chocolat – A Delicious Essay

The following is an essay I thoroughly enjoyed writing due to the fact that it was based on one of my all time favourite movies, Chocolat.

Essay Question

Examine the ideology of the movie Chocolat (2000) from a Christian perspective. What conclusions can you draw as to the values of the film?

Who are the essay’s main characters?

Vianne and Roux

Vianne, the chocolate extraordinaire and Roux, the Irish gypsy.

An old dude, Vianne and Josephine

An old dude, Vianne and Josephine

Comte de Reynaud and Caroline

Comte de Reynaud and Caroline

(Haven’t got a picture of Serge – that is Josephine’s oily husband)

So let us begin. The film Chocolat (2000) tells the tale of a holy war between Church tradition and immorality. The pious Comte De Reynaud is faced with the challenge of dealing with the winds of change which sweep upon his quiet village. The winds are personalised in the film as being “sly, clever and old”. These adjectives conjure up the image of the demonic “powers of the air” (Ephesians 2:2) which suggest no good thing must come from them. Vianne and her daughter are led by the winds to Reynaud’s tranquil village.

Reynaud, who is described in the film as being a hardworking, modest and self-disciplined man, presides over repressed denizens who “through good times and bad, famine and feast… held fast to their traditions” (film narrator). One of these traditions is the festival of Lent, where abstinence, reflection and sincere penitence is expected from the villagers. During the beginning of this holy festival, Vianne opens a chocolatarie across the road from the town’s cathedral.

Vianne’s bold move sparks Reynaud into a zealous campaign to oust Vianne and her daughter from the village. The method of Reynaud’s attempts to oust Vianne is a caricature of the media’s representation of the Church, where “the media has not been afraid to portray religion as a repressive force, populated by narrow-minded and hypocritical clergy and lay-people” (Reynaud, 1999, p. 113). Whereas “many other films… [assume] that the human dilemma is lack of will to achieve the good, resulting in inevitable failures to live up to the law or to high ethical ideals” (Jewett, 1999, p. 5); Chocolat portrays Vianne, the enemy of the Church, as the epitome of a saint. In a confrontation with Reynaud, Vianne screams in frustration, “Am I breaking any laws? Am I hurting anyone?” Reynaud has no answer (and rightfully so), and the media’s “criticisms… of the failures of the Christian Churches to live up to the gospel of redemption, forgiveness, acceptance and peace” (Reynaud, 1999, p. 114) is further established.

The film depicts a role reversal, between Reynaud and Vianne, in what Christian viewers expect these characters to uphold. The emotional persuasiveness of the film presses the viewer to have an affinity towards Vianne, who reflects the righteous character of one persecuted by oppressive forces. The fact that she was carried into town by “sly, clever and old” winds is forgotten, and viewers find a connection to her plight rather than an expected connection to the pietistic Reynaud.

The film records the main characters’ role reversal by contrasting Reynaud’s and Vianne’s values in three major ways: Firstly, one of Reynaud’s strategies to oust Vianne from the town is to slander and gossip against Vianne. During a scene, Reynaud walks into a hair salon, which is reminiscent of a gossip hive, and comments in an aside to the ladies in the room, “Shameless, isn’t it? The sheer nerve of the woman. Opening a chocolatarie just in time for Lent. The woman is brazen. My heart goes out to the that poor, illegitimate child of hers.” Reynaud’s slandering gossip reaches Vianne’s ears when Josephine confides to her, “He [Reynaud] says you’re indicent; he says you’re an influence – a bad influence.” The slandering gossip that Reynaud stoops down to is in contrast to the Bible’s teachings (Leviticus 19:16, Romans 1:29, 1 Timothy 5:13). Reynaud’s actions stand in contrast to Vianne’s actions, when she has the perfect opportunity to gossip about Reynaud. This occurs after a lengthy battle against Vianne, and Reynaud finds himself in the chocolatarie’s display window, smashing the wonderful display of chocolates in righteous zeal. A piece of chocolate lands on his lip. Licking it, Reynaud is succumbed by repressed tendencies and in a frenzy he consumes the chocolate and falls asleep in the display window. In the morning, Vianne finds him asleep – covered in chocolate. Before her is presented the perfect opportunity to allow Reynaud to taste his own medicine of slanderous gossip that would ultimately ruin him. But instead she comforts him by promising that she won’t tell a soul and proceeds to hand him a refreshing glass of water, a righteous act that reflects the Biblical principle of offering kindness to those in need (Matthew 25:35).

Secondly, Reynaud and Vianne hold very different values when it comes to the well-being of other’s souls. During the film, Reynaud is presented with the decision to convert the drunk, Serge Muscat, for beating this wife, Josephine. Reynaud finds Serge, forces him to be Christianised by rote learning catechisms, drag’s Serge into the confessional booth, and thoroughly cleansed Serge’s rugged exterior. “The Comte De Reynaud saw himself drawn into a strange crusade. His struggle to transform Serge into a gentleman became more than an act of good will. It became a test – a holy war between Chateau and chocolatarie” (film narrator). Reynaud’s crusading behaviour is held in contrast to Vianne’s natural and subtle charisma. Whereas Reynaud hunts Serge to convert him, Josephine voluntarily reaches out to Vianne to be rescued. Whereas Reynaud forces Serge to live an exemplary life, Vianne reveals no effort to change Josephine’s heart, but the film records Josephine stating that she had changed in the course of her stay in Vianne’s home. The impact that Reynaud and Vianne have on Serge and Josephine is clearly summarised when Serge, in the peak of his grand outward transformation confronts Josephine. The pair are standing at the chocolatarie’s entrance and Serge emphasises to Josephine that by traditional standards, “we are still married in the eyes of God.” Josephine, who exemplifies the inner transformation replies, “Then He must be blind.” First Samuel 16:7 states that man sees outward appearances, and God sees the heart. The viewer can see what is happening to both individuals and would agree that if a God exists, then he would obviously know that Josephine had had enough of Serge’s abuse.

Thirdly, when the Irish gypsies arrive in town, Reynaud is faced with a “bigger problem” (film narrator) then his archenemy, Vianne. “We must give these outsiders no quarter!” is the slogan of Reynaud’s campaign against the Irish gypsies. Instead, Vianne, accepts the Irish gypsies and even ends up partnering one of the leading Irish gypsies, Roux. Atkins, senior lecturer of Theology, remarks that, “Christianity is a way of becoming who we are meant to be, through building relationships of love. In other words, it is about making, and being made into, friends” (Atkins, 2005). Naturally regarding the Christian principle of graciousness towards strangers, Vianne holds a party to which Roux is invited. At first, the few villagers who attend the party are a little disconcerted at having one of the ‘godless gypsies’ in their midst, but when the communion of dinner occurs, barriers are broken down and Vianne leads the party to Roux’s boat where the celebrations continue through the night.

In all of the above instances, Vianne brings a breath of fresh air into people’s lives. Amande, who befriends Vianne, remarks to her grandson, “Don’t worry so much about ‘not supposed to’ – live a little.” This mentality of a positive approach to life is preached by the Priest Henri in the film’s concluding sermon:

I think we can’t go around measuring our goodness by what we don’t do, by what we deny ourselves, what we resist, and who we exclude. I think we got to measure goodness by what we embrace, what we create, and who we include.

From a Christian perspective, the offensive qualities of Chocolat is portrayed by the fact that Vianne, the pagan, exemplifies Christ’s teachings, and Reynaud, the Church and town leader, stifles the gospel. Christian Answers, an online movie review center, puts it this way, “What’s it gonna be folks? 2,000 year-old Christianity or 2,000 year-old pagan bon bons?” (Megibben, 2000). Christian Answers marks Chocolat’s moral rating as being “very offensive” (Megibben, 2000). Christian Answers fails to realise that Chocolat is clearly portrayed as fable, where the film begins with, “Once upon a time…” and ends with a happy ending.

Chocolat is a modern fable of the Good Samaritan parable (Luke 10:25-37). In the parable, Jesus Christ used a supposed enemy of the Church, the Samaritan, as the hero of the story. The Good Samaritan parable condemns the Priest and Pharisee, as Chocolat condemns Reynaud for his piestism and hypocrisy.

The Good Samaritan, as Vianne, is represented in Christ’s parable as the vessel of grace. In the fable of Chocolat, the chocolate represents the gracious act of healing another’s soul. Repeatedly, chocolate works as a panacea for the consumer’s needs. The chocolate brings life and joy to deadened and apathetic hearts. And even the archenemy of Vianne, Comte De Reynaud, succumbs to the graciousness of Vianne, when in his time of need she presents to him a glass of refreshing water. The Scriptures record a story when, once again, Jesus Christ is talking to the enemy of the Church – a Samaritan woman (John 4:1-26). The Samaritan woman is plagued by her sins, and in an act of grace, Jesus Christ offers her a miraculous drink. The drink of Life. The gracious gift of Life may come in many forms, even a piece of chocolate from a pagan’s hands.

References

Atkins, M. (2005, February 5). Faith & Reason: Tolerance is not enough as the Good Samaritan showed. Retrieved September 25, 2007, from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/faith–reason-tolerance-is-not-enough-as-the-good-samaritan-showed-1528950.html

Brown, D. (Producer), & Hallstrom, L. (Director). (2000). Chocolat [DVD]. Miramax International.

Jewett , R. (1999). Saint Paul Returns to the Movies, Triumph Over Shame. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Megibben, A. (2000). Chocolat Movie Review. Retrieved September 25, 2007, from http://www.christiananswers.net/spotlight/movies/2000/chocolat.html

Reynaud, D. (1999). Media Values: Christian Perspective on the Mass Media. Marrickville, NSW: Southwood Press.

All photos have been derived from: Yahoo Chocolat (2000) Pics < http://movies.yahoo.com/movie/1804361439/photo/stills >Site no longer available.

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