Chocolat: the village and the film

Recently with some friends, I drove about 3 hours away to Flavigny-sur-Ozerain, the beautiful, little medieval village where the movie Chocolat was filmed. (If you are driving from Paris to Lyon, it makes a great departure from the A6 autoroute.) We spent about an hour wandering around the town so that we really had the feel of it. In the center, of course, is the church and right across the little square, the façade of the chocolaterie (chocolate shop) where Vianne (Juliette Binoche) opened up shop. There were plenty of small lanes in which to lose ourselves and lots of quaint flowered houses to dream of living in. At one point I thought – This is where half the pictures in the Pier One store come from! The roses were in full bloom. The summer sun was full. We took lots of pictures….allow me to indulge with a few of mine at the end of the post.

We continued our drive through Bourgogne (Burgundy) and spent the night in a small “chateau” near Tournus. There we watched the film Chocolat together and discussed it over hot chocolate w/ chili pepper until 1 in the morning. The following are some of my thoughts:

  • The film, Chocolat (trailer) is a contrast between what we think is “divine” (religious legalism, ritual, vows, sacraments) and what is truly divine: the human potential for love, caring, acceptance, grace, inclusion, forgiveness, etc.
  • Almost every character in the film is transformed: Vianne (Juliette Binoche) is liberated from the “spell” of her mother to stay on the move; her daughter, Anouk, no longer needs her imaginary, kangaroo friend once they decide to settle down; Josephine, the woman beaten by her husband, eventually becomes the confident owner of a successful café; Roux, the Johnny Depp character, decides to give up his life as a “river rat” and settle in with Vianne and Anouk; Armande (Judi Dench) a mean, grumpy old woman learns to laugh again and to truly enjoy life with her grandson and friends; The Comte de Reynaud (Alfred Molina) loosens up after his night of indulgence in the window of the chocolaterie and relinquishes his tight-fisted control of the townspeople; and even an older gentleman, Guillame Blerot (John Wood) gains the courage to begin dating Madame Audel, who in turn decides to no longer “mourn” the death of her husband killed in WWI. And it must be noted that ALL of this transformation is inspired by the new chocolaterie owner, Vianne. (One person CAN make a difference!)
  • The one character that seems to not be transformed is Serge Muscat, the café owner and brutal husband to Josephine. Although the Comte actively tries to transform him by forcing him into the confessional, giving him a shave, sending him to catechism, dressing him in a suit – these things in the end do not have the power to transform.
  • Vianne, the chocolate store owner, even though she had her own baggage, flaws and struggles, is the most beautiful example of someone who knows how to meet new people with graciousness, inclusion, forgiveness, understanding, authenticity, etc. It is almost as if she is the “evangelist” or the “missionary” on the move spreading the message of love and grace to the church people held prisoner by its empty traditions.
  • The element of “chocolat” is fascinating. It serves as a common bridge to people. It serves as a mirror allowing a glimpse of our individual uniqueness. It serves as a probe that touches a place deep within – our inner child, our sense of enjoyment and delight. It serves as a knife to cut through pretense and expose authenticity. It serves as a sacrament, dispensing grace to parishioners.
  • Watching Vianne interact with the villagers gives us a “parable” about what Jesus meant by “living in the kingdom of God”. It was common for Jesus to use “outsiders” to illustrate his teaching (a Samaritan, a Roman Centurion, etc) By calling it a “kingdom” he didn’t mean being “in” or “out” of his group, but he was referring to living life on a different level, a different “realm”, or in a different “kingdom” to use his metaphor (which may not work too well for us today after too many examples of abusive, controlling “kingdoms.”) Vianne, the chocolate store owner, was clearly living life on a different plane. And she did it despite the exclusion, ridicule and vicious rumors of the village. But eventually, love wins. Her examples of forgiveness and grace begin to transform and inspire others to do the same.  It infects the village and spreads. Things mutate.
  • Why do we love movies like this? For sure, we are drawn in by the quaint French village life of a time gone by….but REALLY, we all have a LONGING for life where grandmothers and grandsons are reconnected, where old people fall in love, where crazy people are understood, where the arrogant are humbled, where the oppressed are liberated. where the stranger is trusted, where the young mature and where love rules.

So, can I make a suggestion? Can I give you an assignment?

  • Rent the movie Chocolat. (here’s a video preview if you need more arm-twisting.)
  • Watch it again. (with good friends would be even better!)
  • Write down your own thoughts/observations.
  • And (this is the important part) – Try the experiment of living like Vianne (Juliette Binoche’s character) – forgive, care, unite, embrace, enjoy, inspire, include, listen, laugh, love…maybe even give away some chocolate.
  • Notice what happens within yourself and the people around you. See if it spreads. This is NOT just the magic of movies….it is the magic of life.

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