"There is a kind of sorcery in all cooking: in the choice of ingredients, the process of mixing, grating, melting, infusing and flavouring, the recipes taken from ancient books, the traditional utensils - the pestle and mortar with which my mother made her incense turned to a more homely purpose, her spices and aromatics, giving up their subtleties to a baser, more sensual magic." - Joanne Harris, 'Chocolat' (1999)
Chocolate has been an object of fascination for humankind for ages. Its history has been traced back three or four millennia to the Olmec civilisation in Mesoamerica. Since then, chocolate has travelled far and wide, changing form, taste, texture, and flavour in previously unimaginable ways. But it's not just the objective and material features of chocolate that are worth exploring. It can be equally interesting to delve into the symbolic meanings that have become attached to it. And one of the most popular of these associations is the idea that it is something "forbidden" or "tempting." Part of chocolate's charm is sometimes precisely that - the idea that it is an indulgence that may not always be 'good,' but one that you still cannot resist. Why else would so many of us consider it a guilty pleasure?
But the meaning we derive from food can be beautifully complex. One of my all-time favourite works of art that explores this idea - even in terms of chocolate - is the movie 'Chocolat,' based on the 1999 novel of the same name by Joanne Harris. Allow me to briefly introduce you to both:
'Chocolat' - The Movie
The 2000 film adaptation tells the story of Vianne Rocher, a woman who arrives in a quaint French village just before Lent and decides to set up a chocolaterie. The people in the small village of Lansquenet are conservative, and their leader is the parish priest, Francis Reynaud. Lent is a religious season during which Christians are meant to fast and give up rich foods and anything indulgent. Therefore, the opening of a chocolate shop antagonizes the priest and the community, who see it as a moral affront. An ideological battle of 'Church versus Chocolate' ensues. It's also important to note that Vianne is an unmarried 'outsider' and has a young daughter. She also doesn't claim to share the religious beliefs of those around her.
Also Read: 5 Foodie Films To Binge On This Weekend
The story and characters are undeniably engaging. The themes may seem heavy, but the plot is more entertaining than solemn. The film can be a simple means to relax and enjoy watching something with family. But if you dig deeper, you will also find much to analyze and ponder over (I recommend reading the book even if you have already watched the film). Undeniably, one of the most appealing aspects of the movie is its star-studded cast: Juliette Binoche plays the lead and makes you fall in love with Vianne even more. Alfred Molina plays the villainous priest. Judi Dench and Johnny Depp have supporting roles, which they execute with flair.
Vianne is compassionate, polite, and brave even in the face of opposition. She brings about much-needed changes in the lives of certain villagers, and almost everything is centred around the chocolate shop and its treats. In a way, the movie is an ode to the distinctive power of chocolate (or food on a larger scale). It can heal, strengthen, and bring people together. But it can also be a weapon in the fight against narrow-mindedness, as shown in the film. Directed by Lasse Hallstrom with a screenplay by Robert Nelson Jacobs, Chocolat is available to rent online on Amazon Prime Video India for Rs. 75.
'Chocolat' - The Novel
The main storyline of the book has been kept more or less intact in the film. As always, adaptations have to cut down on details because of limited time. In the case of Chocolat, the novel provides amazing insights into many of the characters - such that you would wish the film could be longer. One of the most interesting parts of the book is that it has first-person narration by Vianne and Reynaud. So you know what the protagonist, as well as the antagonist, are thinking and get to mentally weigh their arguments more fairly.
While the character of Reynaud may seem to have a hint of caricature in the film, the book version is more compelling. You come to understand just how deep his prejudice goes and just how much difficulty he has in standing against Vianne. The prose is simple but not bland. There are beautiful passages that cannot fail to strike a chord with many readers. Harris shows you that words, as well as chocolate, have magic and the potential to transform lives.
Also Read: 5 Dream Destinations For Chocolate Lovers
About Toshita SahniToshita is fuelled by wordplay, wanderlust, wonderment and Alliteration. When she is not blissfully contemplating her next meal, she enjoys reading novels and roaming around the city.