Friday, November 4, 2011

Chocolat (pronounced: show-coh-law)

the Book
Written by Joanne Harris in 1999
Rating: ★★★★ Good!

What it's about:  

It's Shrove Tuesday, the last day before Lent, and the small town of Lansquenet is putting on their annual parade.  The celebration attracted Vianne and her daughter off the traveling road and gave them a reason to stay, for the meantime anyway.  In a town where "headscarves and berets are the color of the hair beneath, brown, black, or gray," Vianne and Anouk are colorfully out of place, which is evident by the suspicious glances they receive.

When Vianne turns an abandoned bakery into a chocolate shoppe, shortly after the beginning of Lent, she becomes the controversy of the town.  The parish priest, Francis Reynaud, takes Vianne's presence as a personal attack against righteousness and makes her the object of his scorn. To make matters worse, Vianne befriends the town "witch," a wayward wife, and a group of boat-travelling gypsies.

Will Vianne's chocolate shoppe succeed in the midst of such conflict?  Will she finally establish a permanent home, or is this town just a temporary resting place on her way to her next adventure?

Why it's good:

Joanne Harris does a beautiful job creating a multi-dimensional cast of characters in the small, fictional French town of Lansquenet.  Vianne, a complex character with a wandering spirit, is a woman who is independent, demands respect, religious only in her superstitions, and yet is secretly scared and burdened by her past.   

The book dances between the narrative of both Vianne and Father Reynaud, an extremely difficult task for a writer to perfect.  Unfortunately, this is one area where Harris falls short occasionally.  At times, Father Reynaud's voice is too similar to Vianne's (or vice-versa).

Overall, the book is a good read, but not be read while hungry! Harris will tantalize your mind's taste buds with her beautiful descriptions of treats and other food. 

Chocolat (2000) PG-13
Directed by: Lasse Hallström
Starring: Juliette Binoche, Johnny Depp, Judi Dench
Rating: ★★★★ Good!

Differences between the movie and book:

You will notice a handful of differences in the movie.  Vianne and Anouk are not drawn to Lansquenet because of a carnival.  Reynaud is not the parish priest; he is now the mayor.  A character that suffers from a problem with stuttering in the book gets bloody noses instead.  But these are minor details and the movie still sustains the personality of the characters.  You can also expect, among other differences, an altered ending from the book. 

Why it's good:  

In the movie, the arrival of Vianne and Anouk sets an ominous tone.  You can tell right away that there is going to be trouble between them and the staunch mayor that controls the town.  Lasse Hallström does an excellent job creating tension between the polar opposites.  The actors are wonderfully chosen as well.  They fit into their roles nicely and believably.  

Overall, we suggest that you read the book, watch the movie, and eat lots of chocolate!

Up Next . . . Shutter Island

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