A Chocolate a Day Keeps the Blues Away: Food Scenes in Chocolat- Aiman Rahman
Hallstrom’s Chocolat remains one of the most endearing and heartwarming films I have watched regarding food and the way it bridges relationships between communities. We are presented with a magical realist narrative that almost verges on the periphery of the surreal and the fantastic. The spectator is led into the realm of a fictional French village wherein the individuals are constrained by conventional Catholic rules and an ascetic lifestyle. However, the cheerful Vianna Rocher and her daughter pose as an emissary from the world of magic and offer something to the dwellers of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes that awakens both their spiritual and emotional sides: the velvety taste of chocolate. Opening a chocolatory during the Lent (a religious holiday wherein Christians fast) in a town that’s deeply entrenched in its orthodox ideals serves as a symbolic act of deviance itself. As Vianna and her daughter concoct unique blends of cocoa and brew sweetened tea that warms the hearts of certain emotionally deprived individuals, they manage to invoke the wrath of others who view the chocolatory as a form of institutionalized hedonism. Our female protagonist boasts about offering the right variety of chocolate to every individual who steps into the tiny shop and claims that there’s nothing that a spoonful of chocolaty delight can’t fix. Further stories unfold to substantiate her assertion: a meek neighbor who happens to be a victim of domestic abuse finds herself a home within the cozy walls of Vianna’s kitchen, a diabetic elderly reconvenes with her long-lost grandson while sipping on a cup of hot chocolate, and a boisterous pirate from lands far off finds his heart melting out of his love for the protagonist. However, dissent develops amongst certain groups who hold the belief that indulgence, romance, passion and sensuality can lead to the collapse of society. The town mayor and the bishop (symbols of sociopolitical order and religious authority) entwine hands in the pursuit of overthrowing the age of enlightenment evoked by Vianna and her allies. In one particularly jarring scene, the mayor trespasses into the chocolatory in the middle of the night and shatters the chocolate statues, and gobbles on the desserts in a bout of frenzy. His unsatiated desire to consume chocolate and be at the receiving end of pleasure is depicted in an almost animalistic light. Meanwhile, the town loses its footing after the departure of the radiant mother-daughter duo. However, the inhabitants soon discover that chocolate and all the unadulterated joy it represented had enriched their lives and throw a feast that involves everything from scrumptious chocolate chicken to moist cakes to convince their beloved guests to stay.