Chocolat (1988, Claire Denis)

A young white woman named France (Mereille Perrier of Boy Meets Girl) hitching rides through Cameroon flashes back to when she was young and Isaach de Bankole used to feed her ants. Her dad (Francois Cluzet of Chabrol’s L’Enfer) was a colonialist governor and Protee (Bankole) their house servant.

Protee and mom:

When dad attends to local and distant affairs, France and mom (Giulia Boschi) and Protee stay home showing each other displays of power and hidden attraction. A nearby missionary is having a difficult time because lions have killed all his farm animals. The house chef pretends to consult his cookbook, but can’t read.

Young France:

Finally a Big Event: a plane crash-lands nearby and the pilot and passengers stay with the family while getting parts and repairs. Their stay causes all sorts of racial tension. A self-important coffee-grower has a weird relationship with his black housekeeper. One of the white passengers works on the plane with the black locals, eventually starts sleeping and bathing outside, getting on Protee’s nerves. Some of the passengers are more blatantly, vocally racist than the family is used to. Protee is kicked out of the house, plays a weird trick on the little girl where they both end up with their palms burned.

Older France:

Senses of Cinema: “a semi-autobiographical film that functions as a political allegory examining gender, age and colonial relationships.”

Raised by missionaries into a white colonialist culture, removed from his cultural and racial heritage and emasculated by the domestic duties he performs, Protee is a liminal figure trapped between two cultures. This is clearly signified by the arrival of Luc (Jean-Claude Adelin), a young lapsed priest who lives, eats and showers outside like the native servants. Luc threatens Protee, upsets the fragile equanimity, and induces Aimee’s betrayal of Protee and in turn Protee’s betrayal of France. This moment of betrayal explains the transformation in France’s gaze from the innocence and intensity of a child to the cynical wary gaze of an adult remembering and re-examining a complicated past.

Related posts