Returning to Cameroon, the West African nation where she spent her childhood, a young Frenchwoman (Mireille Perrier) contemplates her youth, spent within the enclave of a colonial outpost, and the various characters who inhabited this idyll—notably her mother, Aimee; Luc, a visiting ex-Seminarian; and, towering above them all, the family’s houseboy, Protee (Isaach De Bankole), from whom she learns something about the intricate nature of relationships within a fundamentally racist society. “In the willed silences and the kind of sexual suspension maintained between them, Aimee and Protee guard a necessary order and equilibrium. That balance eventually collapses, done in by a fallen priest’s killing honesty.”— Kathleen Murphy
Raised in Africa herself, Claire Denis’ first feature is rife with autobiographical elements, yet she has been careful to distinguish the film from her own experiences. “When (Chocolat) was made, everybody was telling me, ’It’s your own story.’ I won’t say I lied, but it was just so easy to say yes.” In fact, the film is more impressionistic than documentary: a meditation on the power of landscape—here, all devouring space and indeterminate borders— and the tainted legacy of colonialism. It remains one of the most effortlessly assured feature debuts of the last 20 years. –MIFF
A provocative director whose films offer richly textured, contemplative examinations of cross-cultural tensions and alienation, Claire Denis is one of French cinema’s most distinctive and humanistic storytellers. A prolific filmmaker who is more concerned with the drive of her characters rather than the plot that weaves them together, she has been dubbed by one critic as one of the only current French directors who “has been able to reconcile the lyricism of French cinema with the impulse to capture the often harsh face of contemporary France.”
Born in Paris on April 21, 1948, Denis, the daughter of a civil servant, was raised in a series of African countries until she was 14, when her family returned to France. She learned about filmmaking as an assistant to a number of notable directors, including Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire), Jim Jarmusch (Down by Law), and Costa-Gavras (Hanna K.). She made her directorial and screenwriting debut in 1988 with Chocolat, a lush exploration… read more
Living in South Africa and having to confront on a day-to-day basis many of the postcolonial issues that Denis explores, I found this film amongst the most politically subtle and astute films about colonisation that I have ever seen. Even in a post-Apartheid South Africa, racial and class relationships are frequently as polarizing as they're presented here. An intensely relevant film.
I'm honestly not a fan of some of the more overt racial pontificating, as it were, in the film's second half, even though at the same time I appreciate the autobiographical perspective that Denis is writing and directing from. Her luscious, naturalistic style (described aptly below) helps make up for it though; on an aesthetic level, this film certainly excels.