Chocolat

dir. Claire Denis

TIFF Cinematheque - Retrospective

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A young girl observes a forbidden love triangle in her family home in French colonial Africa, in the acclaimed feature debut by Claire Denis.

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Premiering in competition at the 1988 Cannes Film Festival, Denis' semi-autobiographical debut feature was hailed as "some kind of miniature classic" by The New York Times' Vincent Canby upon its New York theatrical release the following year. Told primarily in flashbacks, the film is set in 1950s French Cameroon, where an eight-year-old girl named France (Cécile Ducasse) lives with her beautiful young mother Aimée (Giulia Boschi) and her father Marc (François Cluzet), a colonial administrator. The perceptive France builds a friendship with the native "houseboy" Protée (Isaach De Bankolé, soon to be a Denis regular), while a palpable sexual tension simmers between him and Aimée. When a small group of French airmen crash-land nearby and Marc invites them to share the family's remote residence, it soon upsets the delicate domestic balance and exposes the inherent complications of the family's presence in this colonized land. Drawing its title from 1950s French slang that means "to be cheated" or "to be had," Chocolat remains a foundational work in Denis' oeuvre for its provocative intertwining of racial and sexual politics, tactile eroticism, and extraordinary formal design. "A film of infinite delicacy ... made with the complexity and subtlety of a great short story" (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times).