Chocolat (1998) – Film Review

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Chocolat Film Review.

Director: Claire Denis
Cast: Isaach De Bankolé, Giulia Boschi, François Cluzet
Certificate: PG

By Sarah Morgan

Mention the title Chocolat and, particularly in this region, the thought of Barnsley-born author Joanne Harris’s novel of the same name, and its subsequent big-screen adaptation, invariably spring to mind. However, the latest release from the BFI is an altogether different recipe, albeit one that is almost as tasty.

Chocolat Film Review.This Chocolat is the debut feature of renowned French auteur Claire Denis. It’s a semi-autobiographical tale involving a woman returning to Cameroon, where she grew up during the final days of colonial rule; we follow her to the site of her childhood home as she reviews her memories.

“Sexual tension simmers”

Named France, she was the only child of a regional governor and his wife, and was the only child seemingly for miles around. As a result, formed a close bond with Protee, the family’s trusted ‘houseboy’. As time passes, it becomes clear that her mother, too, has taken a shine to him, but sees him as a way to ease her boredom while her husband is away carrying out his duties – and is humiliated when he rejects her advances.

Meanwhile, sexual tension simmers between the white residents, particularly after a plane is forced to make an emergency landing nearby, bringing the outside world crashing into their previously closeted existence.

Denis’ film was nominated for the Palme D’Or on its release in 1988, and it’s not difficult to see why – it’s a remarkably assured debut, the first of several from the director that confronts French colonialism and racism in West Africa.

Chocolat Film Review.

“Charismatic”

Cecile Ducasse is sweet as the youngster, but has little to do other than observe the adults surrounding her. Francois Cluzet and Giulia Boschi play her well-meaning if slightly neglectful parents, but it’s Isaach de Bankole who really grabs the attention as Protee. A hugely charismatic actor, he’s since moved into international movies via appearances in the James Bond movie Casino Royale and Marvel’s Black Panther.

As is often the case with BFI releases, the disc has several fascinating special features, including two interviews with Denis and an audio commentary by film critic Kate Rennebohm.

Extras8
Performances7
Screenplay7
Direction8
Cinematography7
Extras
  • Newly restored and approved by director Claire Denis
  • Audio commentary by film scholar and critic Kate Rennebohm
  • Claire Denis à propos de Chocolat (2023, 18 mins): Claire Denis discusses Chocolat and its new restoration
  • Claire Denis in Conversation (2019, 49 mins): the filmmaker looks back over her career
  • Childhood Memories (Mary Martins, 2018, 4 mins): a multilayered autobiographical animation exploring memories of a childhood visit to Lagos, Nigeria
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • 2023 trailer
  • FIRST PRESSING ONLY Illustrated booklet with new essays by Cornelia Ruhe, Catherine Bray and Kevin Le Gendre and writing on Childhood Memories by director Mary Martins
Chocolat is released on Blu-ray by the BFI
7.4
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