Monday, June 2, 2008

Missing the point

Normally I only post about myself, but I really want to criticize the movie Chocolat, primarily because I love the book so much.
For the record, I started writing A La Mode BEFORE I read Chocolat by Joanne Harris, and I've tried my best not to let the novel influence the comic strip. I checked out the movie from the library a few months ago and I have to say this- it SUCKED.
Not because of Johnny Depp, mind you, although he becomes a Mary Stu in the film- in general the screenwriter, producers and directors were too afraid. They weren't willing to tackle genuine racism, evil priests, or death, which the book dealt with.
In one stupid feat they made Father Reynaud into the mayor Comte de Reynaud, who likes to maintain a conservative order within his town. Alfred Molina does a good job, but still, the new priest is meh and not really a character in the movie.
The second thing that the movie did was make the conflict between Vianne and Reynaud open rather than subtle. Reynaud always remains civil to Vianne, never announcing his intention to shut her down or to ruin her festival. Vianne just tries to be herself, even if it means shaking up Reynaud's pseudo-perfect world. Vianne's acceptance of the gypsies seems to be open defiance of Reynaud rather than her own personal feelings, having been a traveler herself. Reynaud in response to this defiance cracks down on the gypsies. In the book Reynaud genuinely fears the gypsies (having had a racist priest as a mentor and having set fire to a gypsy boat when he was fifteen) and short of violence uproots many of them from the town's river banks.
The directors then decide to simplify Josephine's growth and development. The movie here seems to get off on the right foot, with Josephine stealing some pralines from Vianne's shop and then returning to pay for it. However, they then mess it up by having Josephine leave her husband early. In the book, the gypsies arrive before Josephine decides to leave her abusive husband Paul-Marie, and she wanted to serve them. Paul-Marie has hit her many times before and only when he sets fire to one of their boats does she decide to leave. Even then, she isn't that strong. Her inner strength accumulates over time as Vianne supports her. In the movie, she suddenly receives all of this inner power.
The fourth thing the movie does (and for the worse) is not deal with Armande's decision to die. Death was a huge theme in the book, especially since Vianne's mother dealt with death as well and a man named Guillame loses his dog to cancer. All of this (with the exception of a small reference to Armande's diabetes and her death) goes out the window. The mere fact that Vianne and her daughter Anouk attend Armande's funeral (in the book Armande leaves a note telling them not to) infuriates me because it shows that some producers are afraid to be accused of promoting suicide. They also take out the whole thing of Armande having ESP, being able to see Pantoufle (Anouk's imaginary friend, a rabbit in the book and a kangaroo in the movie), and knowing Reynaud's dark secret of setting fire to the gypsy's boat as a teenager.
The fifth thing that the movie does (although it's not as bad as the lack of discussion about death) is make Vianne's sojourns sound very important, and then allow her to toss them out the window in one mere scene. Vianne struggles a lot with deciding whether or not to move, and she eventually does, as shown in The Lollipop Shoes.
If the movie had kept the theme of death, then maybe I would be more lenient, but they took a lush book on mature themes and turned it into a Hollywood production.