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 CHOCOLAT 

Theme:
The traditions of men,
The love of God,
The transformation of hearts 

Insights:

Introduction

As you enter the theater, the billboard advertisement for Chocolat calls it "a comic fable". A fable is a fictitious narrative; a story of supernatural happenings that often enforces some useful truth. As the narrator begins the film with "Once upon a time", we are transported through the clouds to a traditional French village. Although the film is set in 1959, it is as if this village, where time is irrelevant, has only seasons of life. This is the season of Lent.

Since the movie appears to be set in a world of fable and fairy tale, one must look past all the supernatural references to see the heart of the movie. There is a truth in the movie that will touch your heart. So the question should be, "What is this truth, and why am I moved by it?"

The Traditions of Men

There is one central truth being revealed in this film.  It is that the traditions men attach to religion bring a false "tranquility". The practice of religion often becomes the vehicle, which leads men into greater bondage. It can quench the Spirit rather than vivify it. No one proclaimed this message more profoundly than Jesus Christ (Mark 7: 6-13).

Peter Kreeft, the Catholic theologian said, "Dullness not doubt is the greatest enemy of the faith." In Chocolat  "dull" is the word for the Village of Lansquenet. Here everyone knows what is expected of him or her; they know their place in the hierarchy of the village. They have learned not to expect more from life than what their station traditionally affords. The village is a drab, depressing place, without joy, until "a sly north wind blows in", reflecting the arrival of the Holy Spirit (John 3: 8, Acts 2: 2). As if to answer the priest's question in the movie, "Where will we find truth?", the wind blows open the church doors, startling the villagers. The Comte, seated in the front pew, is the mighty upholder of tradition. He rises and shuts the wind out by forcefully closing the doors; thus symbolizing how tradition can shut out the very presence of God.

The Love of God

Vianne and her daughter, Anouk, arrive with the wind to dispense the love of God (the chocolat) to the villagers. As He often does, God uses imperfect vessels like Vianne (as he did King David) because He looks not on the outside as man does, but at the heart (I Samuel 16:7).  The stage is now set for a battle for the hearts of the villagers, a holy war between the Chateau and the Chocolaterie. The contrast is pronounced.

     Chateau (Comte de Reynaud)

    Chocolaterie (Vianne)

Legalism

Love

Law

Spirit

External

Internal

Religion

Relationship

Principles

People

Black / gray

Color

Spreads rumors / slanders

Spreads kindness / encouragement

Controls others

Brings freedom to others

Reforms from the outside (Serge)

Transforms from the inside (Josephine)

Excludes outsiders

Includes everyone

Conceals truth

Open, honest

Ministry of Condemnation

Ministry of Reconciliation

Inspires fear

Inspires faith

The contrast between Vianne and the Comte de Reynaud is extreme. She comes to an old man, Guillaume; the sick, Armande and Luc; the abused wife, Josephine; and the outcast, the river people. She brings love, health, healing and restoration (Matthew 5:1-20).  The Comte and his allies have said to Guillaume, "Your dog has no soul; you've sinned!"  To Armande they said,  "Go to Le Mortoir!" To Josephine, "Go back to your husband for the sacrament of marriage!", and to the river people, "You're not allowed; you contaminate the spirit of the village!"

The Comte de Reynaud has an external righteousness, never willing to deal with the wounding of his own heart (such as his wife's desertion). All our sin proceeds from the heart (Mark 7:20-23). This root of bitterness has grown up and defiled many (Hebrews12: 15).

The Transformation of Hearts

The movie comes to a climax the Saturday night before Easter. Serge, who has taken the Comte a little too literally, comes to confess his sin of setting the riverboats on fire. The Comte dramatically throws him out telling him to leave.  "You are beyond anyone's help!"  (In other words, there is no redemption for you.) The Comte goes into pray before the large crucifix asking, "What should I do?"  The implication is that he receives an answer. Taking a knife he goes to the Chocolaterie to cut up and destroy Vianne's chocolat. 

One could easily misinterpret this scene and take it as anti-Christ, church, etc. However, if you see the chocolat simply as a symbol of God's love, it is really the most profound scene in the movie. Christ knows all this man needs is one tiny taste of chocolat, which represents the true love of God. Cutting up the chocolat is the way to get one morsel past his lips. Having tasted it, the Comte realizes how starved he is for love. The gorging on chocolat scene is incredible when viewed in this light. His transformation by the love of God is immediate. His first words, "I'm so sorry," reflect that truth has finally come and with it true "tranquility", the peace of God, and peace with God. How beautiful it is that he awakens Easter morning in the Chocolaterie; a man truly raised to a new life.

That morning in the Easter service the Priest, Pere Henri, delivers his first homily not written by the Comte.  He talks about the humanity of Christ, not His Divinity, exhorting the parishioners to examine and follow Christ's life, kindness, and tolerance.  The narrator tells how the parishioners all felt "a new sensation, a lightening of the spirit, a freedom from the old tranquility (letter of the law)". This is followed by a joyous Easter celebration of all the villagers who have now been inwardly transformed by  Chocolat (the love of God)!

Farmer and wife

Marriage restored; new love found

Guillaume and widow

Out of black and mourning; into color and love

Young Priest

Released to be himself; delivers his own message

Josephine

Delivered from spousal abuse; blossoming in her new café

Luc

Health and relationships restored; moves from drawing death to drawing life

Caroline

Fear is gone; relationship with son restored; heart healed and softened

Comte de Reynaud

Out of black; softened heart; ready to begin to live

Armande

No longer an ugly old woman; restored and dancing at her death

Anouk

No longer forced to wander; no longer needing Pantoufle

Roux

Freed from being a wandering outcast

Vianne

She who was once used to dispense love; freed to receive love from all she helped

Pantoufle

Healed and set free

Conclusion

The Village of Lansquenet is no longer ruled by the spirit of the first Comte de Reynaud, who drove out the Huguenots with his spirit of intolerance, his hatred, violence, bigotry, abuse, and fear. The village is now filled with the Holy Spirit of God. He has transformed it by His love.

" Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous;
Love does not brag and is not arrogant,
does not act unbecomingly;
it does not seek its own,
is not provoked,
does not take into account a wrong suffered,
does not rejoice in unrighteousness,
but rejoices with the truth;
bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things,
endures all things. Love never fails.."
                                                            I Corinthians 13: 4-8

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