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Tuesday, 13 February, 2001, 18:50 GMT
Delicious taste of Chocolat
Chocs away: Juliet Binoche as Vianne Rocher
By BBC News Online's Tim Masters

It may seem obvious, but if you see Chocolat take a bar of chocolate.

Lasse Hallstrom's film is packed so full of confectionery delights that even the unsweetest tooth will begin to twinge by the end credits.

Juliette Binoche stars as Vianne Rocher - a mysterious woman who appears one day in a sleepy French village and changes the lives of everyone she meets.

The arrival of Vianne and her daughter Anouk (Victoire Thivisol) verges on the supernatural.

The pair - wearing striking red cloaks - trudge through the cobbled streets as the North Wind blasts open the doors of village church.

River traveller Roux (Johnny Depp)
It is the first of many altercations between the woman outsider and the bastions of authority.

Alfred Molina plays the outraged mayor Reynaud, who declares war on Vianne when she opens her chocolaterie during Lent.

Although at times sporting an accent that sounds like it wandered in from a sitcom, Molina is ultimately convincing as a man bubbling with inner turmoil.

But Binoche is perfectly cast - quietly dominating each scene with her luminescent presence.

Like an expensive chocolate, this is a film of many layers. It is about hidden appetites, private desires and female empowerment.

It is also about the naked joy of chocoholism. As in Joanne Harris's original novel chocolate's erotic, pagan qualities permeate every part of the story.

Dame Judi Dench stars as Armande
But Hallstrom allows room for several strong supporting performances, not least his real-life wife Lena Olin as a long-suffering woman who finds the strength to escape her violent husband.

Judi Dench excels as the elderly Armande, and gets many of the film's wittiest lines.

And Johnny Depp (sporting another out-of-place accent) puts in a twinkling performance as the ponytailed gypsy traveller Roux.

Blending comedy and tragedy like light and dark chocolate, this romantic fable leaves a wonderful aftertaste.

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