Sunday, May 10, 2009

Netflix It: Chocolat

Chocolat, not to be confused with the 2000 Lasse Hallström movie of the same title, tells the semi-autobiographical story of Claire Denis’s childhood in northern Cameroon. The film opens with a shot of an African father and son playing in the surf, as a young white woman sits nearby, listening to her Walkman. The young woman, (a bit heavy-handedly) named France Dalens, has just returned to Cameroon at the beginning of the film, and most of the film plays out in extended flashback, exploring the dynamic in the household among the members of the Dalens family, their various European houseguests and their African servants. France’s mother, Aimée, and the head servant, Protée, manage to communicate (to us, and to everyone else in the film but M. Dalens) their quiet but powerful sexual attraction with a bare minimum of smoldering glances. Not exactly a plot-driven movie, Chocolat (whose title derives from 1950s French slang for being cheated) takes its time exploring the thoughtless humiliations of colonialism’s dying days (including, but obviously not limited to, public outdoors showers for the servants). Definitely worth checking out if you are in a contemplative mood, Chocolat is the first film of a trilogy that includes S’en fout la mort and J’ai pas sommeil.

 A plus for Francophiles: the DVD has the option of French subtitles.

There's an interesting essay about the film here, and an interview with Claire Denis about Chocolat and S'en fout la mort here, but be forewarned: there are minor spoilers. (However, as noted, it's not like there is a twist ending or any shocking revelations.) Also, the New York Times loved the hell out of this movie back in 1988.

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