In the vein of Chocolat, this charming comedy follows two people who fall in love through their love of chocolate. Angelique is a gifted chocolate maker, but her uncontrollable shyness leads her to take a sales assistant role at The Chocolate Mill. Her new workplace is owned by Jean-René, who suffers a similar bashfulness – especially when it comes to intimacy. Sparks fly when the two meet, but will they overcome their shyness and admit their sweet affection for one another?
FRENCH FILM FESTIVAL: There’s a great set-piece halfway through this rather sweet and funny small-scale rom-com from director Jean-Pierre Améris where one of the film’s heroes, Angélique (Isabelle Carré), bursts into a bubbly and bright version of Maria’s 'I Have Confidence’ from The Sound of Music, complete with full-Dolbyised soundtrack accompaniment. It’s like the film has suddenly mutated into a low-rent musical. The reason why she’s singing is that she’s had something she yearns for – a big win in life. Améris attenuates this heart bursting moment of gladness with a technique that parodies old-style musicals: Angélique, shot in a long take in wide full-frame, making clumsy little two-steps, swinging her arms and hips and grinning ear to ear. What’s truly touching about the moment is that it’s just a blip; by now we know that for Angélique, such emotions do not linger.
We’ve heard Angélique sing the number earlier in the movie; she uses the tune as an emotional booster every time she’s feeling anxious, which in this film is a lot, since Angélique is both relentlessly optimistic and painfully shy – so much so that in moments of high anxiety she actually faints.
Still, Angélique tries hard to beat the crushing weight of feeling inadequate to the most mundane forms of everyday experience; she attends a kind of 12-step program for regressive types who long for a meaningful relationship, and at the beginning of the film, she’s heading out to a job as a chocolatier at The Chocolate Mill, a tiny factory, once prosperous, now on the verge of bankruptcy since its confectionary and style is considered 'too old fashioned".
The place is owned and operated by Jean-René, terrifically played by Belgian comic actor Benôit Poelvoorde, who, it turns out, is another pathetically shy character that longs for romantic involvement but lacks the skills, courage and staying power required. Misunderstanding Angélique’s skill set (and she, in turn, misunderstanding the position available), Jean-René offers her the completely inappropriate job of sales rep. What Jean-René doesn’t know is that Angélique is a genius with chocolate; though hidden, she’s got the kind of elan to transform The Chocolate Mill’s product. It doesn’t take long for this pair to pair up – though they decide mutually, even before a romance has had a chance to grow, that it’s not a good idea.
The script by Améris and Phillipe Blasband is redolent with the standard tropes of the romantic comedy: ironic puns, miscommunication, and hidden identity (plus a few more besides).
The tension of the film’s plot, then, is based on a set of clear-cut, cringe-inducing questions – cringe-inducing because it is positively painful in a delicious kind of way to watch the two awkward would-be lovers conquer their anxieties. Will Jean-René ever find the courage to commit? Will Angélique ever reveal her un-natural gift for producing an irresistible brand of confectionary so The Chocolate Mill can be saved? About twenty minutes in I had another thought: Can Améris sustain the film’s almost but not quite cute tone and delicate feeling for whimsy?
I think he does and that’s because the genuine pleasure of the film isn’t really to be found in the plotting (though, that is extraordinarily skillful – the film’s scheme of action is brilliantly laid out), it’s in the mood and the performances.
Angélique is a wonderful creation; a pathological case who dominates the movie and propels its action. (A splendid bit of irony that!) Carré is radiant in the part; she’s lovely (she has an 'old/young’ face that’s very touching) and she can make timidity a comic symphony out of double takes, self-doubt and eye averting embarrassment that’s hilarious and sad all at once.
Poelvoorde is great too; he has a long glum face that’s tired looking, like it’s weighed down by the burden of too many half-hearted romantic overtures. He hardly smiles in the movie, but there are moments late in the piece when he does and it’s like a star burst. One of the reasons why I think this good natured film works so well is because the anxious pain of the lovers seems never far away"¦ even when all seems sweet.
The cinematography by Gérard Simon has the palette of a chocolate box; it’s a wash of warm dark hues with silvery highlights that makes the real-world locations of factory, hotels, and streets look like studio fantasy creations – too rich and beautiful. Of course, this is the kind of picture that some people are going to choke on; it’s too nice, perhaps. Still, its upbeat sense of promise seems earned and its style is seductive.
I mean, I hate The Sound of Music but when Angélique sings 'I Have Confidence’ I thought it was just great. Though, I guess that only proves that some things just sound so much better when they’re in French (and therefore, if you’re like this writer, you cannot understand a word). But you don’t need words, since it’s such a happy sound.