Our Summer of Mercy video series concludes this week with the feature film: Chocolat (2000, 2hrs, 1 min).
About the story:
Vianne Rocher, a “free spirit” and her young daughter find their way to the small French village which is led by a very traditional mayor, the Comte de Reynauld. In fact, he considers it his duty to make sure the village maintains its traditional values, even preparing the new young pastor’s sermons. Deep down, however, this seemingly idealic town has a number of problems, and they learn the hard way that you just can’t ignore them in the hopes that they will fix themselves or just go away.
It takes the outsiders, Vianne, and later the Gypsy traveler Roux to reveal these problems, forcing the various townspeople to confront them for what they are. In the meantime, Reynauld sees things getting out of control, and when tragedy strikes, finds himself unable to turn the situation back to the way it was. Fear of change drive the characters until they must admit the truth of their situations, eventually realizing that mercy, love, and forgiveness are what they need most of all.
About the film:
Released in 2000, the film sports a number of then rising stars along with some established talent, including Juliette Binoche, Dame Judi Dench, Alfred Molina, Lena Olin, and Johnny Depp. The film was generally well received and garnered quite a lot of attention in awards circles, receiving nominations from the Academy, BAFTA, and Golden Globes. Ultimately, however, owing a lot to the competition that year, it garnered only a handful of awards. Still, for a modest $25 million dollar budget, it was a commercial success bringing in some $152 million worldwide.
Shot in a contemporary style, the film used a historical backdrop (France countryside in 1959) to tell a story that is relevant both to then and today. Though it uses a light touch, it reminds us of the problems that ensue when we seek to follow the letter of the law without giving consideration to the spirit of the law and the context of life that surrounds a given situation. The film thrives in the gray areas between what we preach and what we practice, and the conflict that ensues when these two elements come into contact with everyday life. Particularly for a Catholic audience.
Ultimately the film gives us an opportunity to judge what is right, based both on the teachings of our faith and how those teachings need to be applied. If we are to look at the situations of the film through the lens of mercy, we can see that it’s not so much a more secularization of the township that occurs, but gracious acceptance of failure, the need for forgiveness, and an opportunity to evaluate how to be a true Christian.