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Film Review

By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat


Directed by Claire Denis
MGM/UA 01/88 DVD/VHS Feature Film

In Chocolat, a young woman (Mireille Perrier) is traveling alone in the Cameroon. As she looks at the countryside, her memories take her back to the 1950s, the last years of French rule in this African country. Her name is France (Cecile Ducasse) and as a young girl she's isolated from her beautiful and bored mother Aimee (Giulia Boschi) and her father (Francois Cluzet), a district officer who travels a lot.

France's closest companion is Protee (Isaach De Bankole), the family's house servant. They share riddles and spend time together despite the racial and cultural barriers that separate them. Protee's sexual yearning for France's mother, and hers for him, is a source of tension in the household.

This and other tensions that have been gathering are brought to the surface when a group of travelers from a downed plane arrive at the compound. Among them is a coffee grower who symbolizes the worst racist tendencies of colonial intruders. Also present is Luc (Jean-Claude Adelin), an ex-seminarian who is crossing Africa on foot. He eats with the servants, sleeps outside, and uses their shower. Singling out Protee, he says, "You're even worse than the priests who raised you."

In the end Aimee decides to assign Protee to duties elsewhere. The humiliation and the anger he feels are directed at France. Now, still unreconciled to her past, this young woman listens to an American black who tells her that Africa holds no answers and that she has no future here.

In her debut as a director, Claire Denis has fashioned a subtle and very captivating portrait of colonial Africa, based on her own childhood experiences there. "I just tried to describe the visible part of the iceberg. In Africa, nothing is ever said. But the weight of things is always there."


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Reviews and database copyright 1970 2012
by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
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