Chocolat can Inspire Change
Change over time is inevitable; this statement rings true for almost everything. Over time, a human undergoes both emotional and physical changes. Plants adapt and change to survive according to their environment. Inanimate objects will rust and decay and eventually fade. And yet, there are some people who feel that the previously mentioned statement does not apply to them; almost as if change eludes them because they wish it to be so. This arguably stubborn belief is a prominent theme in the 2000 movie, Chocolat, where the idea of remaining the same is applied not just to one character, but to an entire town. Stuck in their old fashioned ways, the residents of the small French town where the story takes place are content with living a simple life filled with nothing but church and gossip. But when the main character Vianne opens a chocolaterie, many people start to experience change within their lives, though some are unwilling to accept it. Perhaps the characters dislike change because to do so would require them to let go of painful things from their past, or because there is safety in consistency. However, even in the town that ran away from change, it finally caught up with them in the end, and all of the characters experienced some form of transformation.
The film opens with an aerial shot of a small town in the French countryside, with the residents filing into a church. The narrator, who remains unnamed, explains that the people of the village believe in “tranquillite,” or tranquility, and that, “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…If by chance your hopes had been disappointed, you learned never to ask for more. So through good times and bad, famine and feast, the villagers held fast to their traditions.” It is with these words that the narrator explains that the villagers are not only unaccustomed to change, but also do not welcome it. Their ultimate goal in life is consistency.
What is particularly interesting about the explanation of the village is that, even if hopes had been crushed, people learned to never think of new ones because their opportunity had passed. It is truly an incredible thing that people would give up on their deepest desires, something that often gives them purpose in life, all for the sake of staying the same. Although this could be viewed as a selfless sort of act, as people give up their dreams all the time for the betterment of others, it could also be looked at as living a life that has no purpose other than to function on a day to day basis. This living without experiencing is something the villagers of the small French town seem to be resigned to; to simply walk through life without any drastic changes.
The stillness and almost timeless feeling of the village is constantly displayed throughout the film. Take, for example, the character of Madame Audel, whose husband died in World War I. The film takes place circa 1960, and yet in all of this time, Madame Audel has never accepted suitors or been married, as she is still in mourning of her long-dead husband. Although some might find this tragically romantic, it is also a bit ludicrous that in all of that time, the character has not even given the slightest indication that she will move on with her life. Her desire to hold on to memories of the past and to remain unchanged in her grief reflects the attitude of the villagers to not change. Perhaps that is also why the character depends on the village so much, as do other characters, because the village as a whole does not seem to accept any aspect of life that is different from what they are used to, or anything that threatens to alter their lifestyle.
But perhaps the most immovable character of the film is that of the village mayor, Paul de Reynaud. Almost from the moment Vianne and her illegitimate daughter, Anouk, move in and make their intentions clear about opening a chocolate shop during the season of Lent, Reynaud seems to make it his personal mission to close Vianne’s shop and to drive her out of the town. While he is not an entirely malicious man, he lets his fears of change that Vianne brings consume his life to the point that he is willing to do anything to keep the village ‘safe’ from ‘deviants’ like her. However, Reynaud, who constantly displays his controlling and manipulative behavior throughout the movie, does not lead as normal a life as he would like; the audience soon learns that his wife left him before the start of the film. This drastic change in his life in likely a reason as to why he feels threatened by anything that is different. Perhaps it is his hope that if all remains the same and nothing else is disturbed in any way, then his wife will return to him.
And yet, even with all of the resistance to change, Vianne and her chocolate shop inspire people to act as they have never have before. The hope that they once couldn’t ask for is restored to them all because of Vianne and her strong will to not blend in to the crowd. From her acts of kindness to the local desperate housewife and kleptomaniac, Josephine, to suggesting a special kind of chocolate that will reanimate the sex life of a bored couple, to befriending the traveling gypsies who all others shun, Vianne throughout the course of the movie makes people realize the potential they have to change, and that life cannot improve without taking risks.
After many, and often times, comical incidents, including the mayor finally giving into his urges and devouring all of the chocolate in the display case of Vianne’s shop, the village finally recognizes that change is inevitable and all seem to welcome it with open arms. Madame Audel is seen interacting with a new love interest, while Reynaud appears to be making steps to move on with his life by accepting Vianne. And while Vianne might act as the catalyst of change within the village, the residents, at some point, would have transformed regardless of the situation. After all, change is inescapable and time always leaves its mark in the end.