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Chocolat (2000) star star star star
Reviewed 2001-08-03: When was the last time you saw a movie with magic in it? And when was the last time you saw a movie in which the main character is an atheist? Second Look ReviewAnd that character is the heroine of the film!

is about Vianne and Anouk (Juliette Binoche and Victoire Thivisol), a mother and daughter who open a chocolate shop in a small French village and shake up the rigid morality of the community. The magic is the effect of her chocolates on the residents: her secretly diabetic landlady, Armande (brilliantly played by Dame Judi Dench); the uptight mayor (Alfred Molina); the widow he employs,and secretly lusts for Caroline (Carrie-Anne Moss) -- his wife having left him, perhaps for obvious reasons, though he admits this to no one; Caroline's artistically inclined son (Aurelien Parent-Koenig), who longs to bond with his rebellious grandmother (Armande), which his straight-laced mother (Caroline) forbids. There is also a romance between Vianne and an Irish drifter (Johnny Depp), though this is not deeply developed. Vianne even saves two troubled married women -- one by taking in an abused wife; another by sparking her husband's latent desire with... chocolat. And there is a chocolate-enhanced romance Vianne sweetens up between two older village residents.

To say that I liked this movie is an understatement. It was sweet as chocolate, charming as a quaint village, wickedly funny as a satire, and even has a happy ending. At times I laughed out loud; at others I thought I felt a tear on my cheek. Every character, including that of Alfred Molina as the uptight mayor -- and it's hard not to laugh at him after his hilarious turn as the Russian assassin in The Man Who Knew Too Little (1997) -- has his or her moment. In one scene, when he finds his control over the town undermined by this woman and her chocolatérie, he breaks into her store and smashes the window display... only to be seduced by that sweet confection... and eat everything in sight! The next morning, he is discovered asleep in the window by the town priest, a young man he has browbeaten into condemning the woman and her chocolates, as Vianne awakens him by offering a glass of water. Hmm... like water for chocolat?

is a pleasant confection with a pleasing aftertaste.

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Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance reviewer.