A beautiful story, wonderful acting, fine directing, and a whole lot of richly delicious looking chocolate make Chocolat a surprisingly great Oscar contender.

When I first saw the ads for this flick, I thought it looked sweet enough, but I made no effort to see it. Then came the Oscar nominations, and the surprising inclusion of Chocolat in the Best Film category.
OK, I had to see what was up with that…

Turns out it's a delicious little surprise.
Chocolat tells the story of a slightly mysterious, life loving woman and her daughter, who sweep into a sleepy little French village, and wake it up a bit.
Juliette Binoche stars as Vianne Rocher, who opens up a chocolate shop, and does so during Lent! Alfred Molina plays the repressed Mayor who just won't have those kind of shenanigans in his village, especially during lent! Juliette Binoche is radiant. Her smile warms up the villagers long before the chocolate awakens their taste buds. Alfred Molina is under rated. I think what happens with him is that he is usually type cast, but he is always excellent. Dame Judy Dench is very good as a crabby old lady that just wants to live a little while she still can. She is very impressive in this role; always a demanding presence on the screen.
Playing her daughter was a bit of a surprise…Carrie Ann Moss, "Trinity" from the smash hit The Matrix. She does a great job portraying a rather demure widow. She is an incredibly beautiful woman, and it was interesting to see her being overtly feminine, as opposed to the ass kicking Trinity.
Lena Olin does a great job in Chocolat, as does Peter Stormare, who never plays a nice guy (Lost World: Jurassic Park, Fargo, 8 MM). This is his one of his more passionate roles, and he did a great job.
I like Johnny Depp, and I liked him in this movie in what was a small, but important role…but I'm not sure if he was cast properly. Or maybe he just looked too hip. I dunno, but I don't wanna take away from his performance, as always he was good, but this time he wasn't great.

I would say the surprise in this film is young Victoire Thivisol, who plays Bonoche's daughter, Anouk. This little girl was very natural, and had this star quality to her that was far beyond her years. I remember once seeing the trailer to a French film called Ponette, and I remember being astounded at the dramatic scenes featuring a VERY young girl, we're talking no older than five years old! Sure enough that was Victoire. She received rave reviews for that performance, and I'm sure that she will continue to win praise.

Chocolat was directed by Lasse Halstrom, who previously worked with Depp in What's Eating Gilbert Grape, and also did last year's The Cider House Rules. He did a fine job of directing. Chocolat is based on a novel, and there is also an 1998 French film with the same name, although I don't know if that has the same story.
Chocolat is a wonderful film. It can be a "date movie", or even a family film with one very quick scene which the little ones might not need to see. I actually wanna see this movie again, and I highly recommend it to everyone.