A saccharine insult to its talented cast, to the ideals of ”personal liberation” it panderingly gathers in its moist embrace, and to the cacao bean itself, Lasse Hallstrom’s Chocolat aspires to be both an elixir and an aphrodisiac but acts as an emetic. About 55 minutes in, Juliette Binoche, playing a free-spirited chocolatier shunned by the leadership of a provincial French town, is made to banter flirtily with Johnny Depp, who plays an oppressed gypsy. Depp: ”Listen, I should probably warn you. You make friends with us, you make enemies of others.” Binoche: ”Is that a promise?” Depp: ”It’s a guarantee.”
In story as in dialogue, Hallstrom and screenwriter Robert Nelson Jacobs, working from Joanne Harris’ novel, never meet a cliche they don’t like to dress up with gauzy lighting and quaint Francophile detail. Cribbing from Like Water for Chocolate, Babette’s Feast, and ads for Hershey’s Kisses, they confect a slow-moving fable — mysteriously nominated for Best Picture — that connects warmheartedness with hot cocoa by way of advocating ”kindness” and ”tolerance.” Fine, but, as served, indigestible.