The Mayans believed cocoa with a pinch of chili held the power to unlock hidden yearnings and reveal destinies. Over the years, ancient Mayan traditional chocolate recipes have gained a new hint of meaning:
The only thing sweeter than chocolate is a happy and stable family.
When affection doesn’t run deep, you won’t feel the smoothness in the chocolate.
In 2001, the film Chocolat, adapted from the novel of the same name by Joanne Harris, was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It tells the story of a young mother, Vianne Rocher, played by Juliette Binoche, who arrived at the peaceful yet repressed fictional French village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes with her 6-year-old daughter Anouk. The bright red colors they wore formed a sharp contrast with the dull and drab grey or black colors commonly worn by the villagers. Under the guardianship of Comte de Reynaud, the village imposed rigid, cold, and indifferent impressions, as seen from the black statue in the square.
Vianne liked to dress in bright red, which was in sharp contrast to the rigid grey or black colors throughout the village. Just as the village began observing the 40 days of Lent fast, Vianne opened a chocolaterie, much to Comte de Reynaud’s displeasure. Seeing the exotic display inside the shop, the landlady joked: “What’s the decor, Early Mexican Brothel?”
Viewing the chocolaterie as a threat to their traditions, Comte de Reynaud warned the villagers to shun Vianne’s shop and warned Vianne in person. Though Vianne had no bad feelings toward the church, she didn’t attend the liturgy at all. All the villagers grew suspicious of her after noticing the inappropriateness in her culture from their traditions.
Comte de Reynaud turned the villagers against Vianne for tempting them during a time of abstinence and self-denial, and threatened to expel Vianne from the village before Easter. Confronted with the unpleasant situation, Vianne’s kind and tolerant nature began to shine and won the villagers over one by one with her warm and polite demeanour as usual. Through the use of a roulette, Vianne gained a knack for guessing people’s favorites. She generously handed out chocolate to the villagers, in the hope that they could taste the sweetness of life.
Vianne continued her late mother’s wishes of dispensing ancient cocoa remedies from village to village, traveling with the wind. Her warm smiles worked like magic, soothed the souls of the villagers, and melted their chilly dispositions. Vianne took Josephine Muscat under her wings, who suffered from domestic violence without realizing it; she warmed landlady Armande’s heart with kindness; she also encouraged the timid Luc, who was always treated as his mother’s trained poodle, to be brave and break free from his cocoon. Finally, Luc gave his grandma her birthday present by himself.
Realizing the failure to turn everyone in the village against Vianne, out of rage and desperation, Comte de Reynaud broke into the chocolaterie through the window and intended to destroy the shop. During of the wrecking, a small piece of chocolate flew into his mouth and the flavor was out of this world. At that very moment, Comte de Reynaud broke down. He had kept denying the fact that his estranged wife ran away from him, while he used this personal resentment against innocent people. As his resentment melted away, he fell asleep among chocolates like a baby, fast and sound.
The sudden appearance of a gypsy named Roux brought colorfulness into Vianne’s life. Since the first contact of Roux fixing a door for Vianne, cocoa revealed life’s destiny for her. In pursuit of bringing happiness to others, Vivian firmly believed in the power of family, which was sweeter than chocolate. Vianne decided to stop her roaming life and settle down to marry Roux.
Following the North Wind, roaming from one place to another with her mum since birth, Anouk felt lonely and unsettled in the world. She imagined a limping kangaroo named Pantoufle lived with her, but he could not hop anymore because of an injury to his leg. At the end of the movie, Anouk saw Pantoufle’s bad leg miraculously healed, and he hopped off in search of new adventures.
When people in the village finally opened up and broke free from their inner shackles, they were released from years of repression and separation. The whole village was filled with the atmosphere of liberty and happiness. Once people’s hidden yearnings are released, their wishes will be realized. From the movie we learn what authentic tradition is. Tolerance, understanding, inclusion, and justice based on truth are the key aspects of tradition values. True tradition celebrates the agility and righteousness of humanity, rather than restraints and hypocrisy.
Watching the movie Chocolat resembles watching a river flowing by. You may feel calm and peaceful one moment, and rocking and conflicting another moment. There are times you feel the happiness and joy as the movie progresses. At the end of the movie, the villagers got together and indulged themselves in tasting chocolate, while the cold strict-faced statue showed its smiles. Authentic tradition embraces people with love and compassion, kindness in caring about and helping each other, and it conveys freedom and happiness, just like the tastiness of chocolate.