|Robert Nelson Jacobs
|Miramax Films; PG-13; 121 minutes
|Juliette Binoche, Lena Olin, Johnny Depp
Director Lasse Hallstrom (The Cider House Rules) is behind the sweet calculated craft of Chocolat. Following magical realist rules written by its predecessor, Like Water for Chocolate, this movie equates sensual food with interpersonal magic in an exotic location. The mystic cook is Vianne (Juliette Binoche), who breezes into an uptight French village with her daughter. She's free-spirited, unrepentantly single, and has a knack for serving emotionally injured individuals the exact confection necessary to jump start their lives. Opening a chocolate shop in the middle of Lent irritates the conservative mayor. At the same time, Vianne's personalized sweets bring life to such folks as her sour, diabetic landlord (Judi Dench). Johnny Depp steps into this film as itinerant Roux, a roguish match for the unrestrained mom. Adding to the star power is Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix) and Lena Olin (in a fresh reversal of the roles she and Binoche held in The Unbearable Lightness of Being).
The cast transforms the material's thin familiarity into a succulence worthy of its title. A generous, sexy outsider; oddball small-towners; food's magic touch: expect few surprises here, just the satisfaction of a sweet, compact treat.