”Life,” a wise simpleton named Forrest once remarked, ”is like a box of chocolates: You never know what you’re gonna get.” That sentiment is also applicable to the act of buying a movie ticket — as filmgoers know all too well. But those who took a chance and plunked down money to see Chocolat, Swedish director Lasse Hallström’s delectably droll and heartwarming yarn about a young woman whose enchanted sweets awaken passions in a staid French village, no doubt had their faith in serendipity rewarded.
Here, at last, was a film to be savored like a rich morsel of Godiva’s finest. The ingredients were deceptively simple: A terrific cast that included two Oscar-winning actresses, Juliette Binoche and Judi Dench, as well as Johnny Depp, Lena Olin, and Carrie-Anne Moss; a subtly sexy story line that placed the emphasis on characterization rather than titillation; a scenic French location, and a director with a keen sense of just how to mix all those elements together. Binoche, notoriously discriminating about what roles she accepts, credits Hallström with creating a relaxed atmosphere on set. ”There was no psychological blah-blah,” she has said of the director’s approach. ”It was pretty much on having the emotion but staying in character. Lasse maybe directed me five times in the movie.”
That absence of ”blah-blah” seems to have yielded a perfect blend of flavors. Indeed, though Chocolat is at times bittersweet, it’s ultimately a film with a universal message about people’s power to change their lives, and to move forward in the aftermath of tragedy. And here’s a thought all those connected to Chocolat should bear in mind on the Big Night: Think of Oscar as the ultimate foil-wrapped treat; you never know if you’ll get to feast on him, but just being in contention for the honor is mighty sweet.