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Short Cuts on this webpage: Film Summary & Title Allusion | Director Claire Denis | Cameroon
Narrative Frame Characters, with Commentary | On Narrative Structure, Theme, & Style
Narrative Past Characters, with Commentary | Chocolat Film Notes with Critical Commentary
Works Cited & More Resources
Chocolat. Dir. Claire Denis. Prod. Alain Belmondo and Gerard Crosnier. Wr. Claire Denis and Jean-Pol Fargeau. Perf. Giulia Boschi, Isaach de Bankole, François Cluzet, Cecile Ducasse, Mireille Perrier. Cinemanuel, MK2 Productions, Cerito Films, La S.E.P.T., Caroline Productions, Le F.O.D.I.C. Cameroun, Wim Wenders Produktion Berlin, TFI Films Production, Orion Films; 1988. [Videotape:] Orion Classics, 1989. [DVD:] World Films, MGM Home Entertainment, 2001.
Film Summary & Title Allusion
Claire Denis's award-winning autobiographical film traces a young white womans return to her youth in pre-independence French Cameroon, haunted by strong memories of black African Protee, the family's "houseboy" and a man of great nobility, intelligence and beauty. Chocolat is a stirring & subtle examination of intricate relationships in a racist society and the human damage exacted on both the colonized and colonizer.
Film Title Allusion: In a 1989 interview with Judy Stone, Claire Denis explained that she “employed the term Chocolat for its 1950s slang meaning, ‘to be had, to be cheated,’ and therefore the word's association of ‘to be black and to be cheated’” (cited in Sandars).
21 April 1948; Paris, France]
“was raised in a French colonial family in
West Africa [from 1948 – 1963].
She was two months old when she moved from her native France to Africa.
Denis’s family stayed in Cameroon for three years after its 1960
independence. Her father set up a radio station for the new government.
However, polio-stricken in 1963, Denis, her sister and their mother were sent
back to France. After a prolonged stay in the hospital, Denis fully recovered,
but her sister was left with a slight limp. Information gathered from the
interview with Kevin Thomas, staff writer at the
Los Angeles Times,
‘Denis Offers a Taste of Her Own Past with
Chocolat’” (Philibert 223;
Denis spent her remaining teenage years in Sceaux, a suburb of Paris. “In 1972, she graduated from IDHEC, the celebrated school of cinema in Paris, and started work in film production, leading to her role as first assistant director” to Dusan Makavejev, Costa-Gavras, Jim Jarmusch, and Wim Wenders (“The Lifetime Series: Claire Denis”). After making several short films, Denis finally gained financing and Wim Wenders’ backing needed to make Chocolat, featured in 1988 Cannes Film Festival’s Directors Fortnight.
“Chocolat sensitively portrays a young woman's return to her native home in Africa which conjures memories of French colonial life on an outpost in Cameroon in 1957. It is the first in a trilogy, followed by S'en fout la mort (No Fear, No Die, 1990) and concluding with J'ai pas sommeil (I Can't Sleep, 1993). The film is important both because it's Denis' directorial debut and because it's portrayed from the perspective of a female ex-coloniser. Prior to this Denis had worked with Jim Jarmusch on Down By Law (1986) and Wim Wenders on Paris, Texas (1984) and Wings of Desire (1987). Denis credits their influence on the style of this film, as well as the Japanese films of Ozu and Mizoguchi” (Sandars).
“. . . Denis, like the young protagonist of her quasi-autobiographical first feature, Chocolat, developed a sophisticated understanding of the nature of difference and displacement. Subtlety, secrecy, control, and power, all tools she dexterously employs in her work, were learned in everyday human relations. ‘In Africa,” Denis has noted, ‘nothing is ever said, but the weight of things is always there.’ This is also true of her filmmaking technique, in which presence and absence dominate over words and action. The stark, ominous beauty of the African landscape is embedded in Denis’s visual style, with its depictions of space, texture, and fleeting images of silhouettes, flesh, and sunlight” (“The Lifetime Series: Claire Denis”).
|Cameroon, located on the west coast of central Africa, is home to more than 11 million people representing some 200 ethnic groups, including Bamileche, Fulani, Douala, Eurondo, and Fang. The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade drew European interests, and in the 19th century, France, Great Britain and Germany struggled for control of Cameroon (see also Afrique, je te plumerai.) Cameroon was a German protectorate from 1884 until Germany lost World War I (1914-1918). France and Britain divided Cameroon into two colonies in 1922; at the end of World War II, in 1946, France and Britain promised to grant Cameroon self-government – eventually. French [East] Cameroon became the Independent Republic of Cameroon on Jan. 1, 1960. The two Cameroons – East and West - were confederated from 1961 to 1972, when a new constitution joined the two states. English and French are Cameroon’s official languages, although most Cameroonese speak African languages. Approximately 45% practice African religions, 35% are Christian, 20% are Muslim. (Summary adapted from Philibert 222; note 20).|
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“NARRATIVE FRAME” CHARACTERS, with Commentary
Narrative Present: Post-independence Cameroon
France Dalens, the adult (Mireille Perrier): White woman who appears in the “frame narrative” at beginning and end of the film in Cameroon of the narrative present (presumably 1980s?); the adult France carries her father’s notebook and her return to Cameroon evokes bitter-sweet memories of her childhood in pre-independence French Cameroon in the 1950s. Her name--“Vive la France!” jokes Mungo--is surely symbolic, suggesting that her story operates on both personal and larger national levels.
William J. “Mungo” Park (Emmet Judson Williamson): African-American man (bearing the name of famous 19th century European “explorer” of Africa) who, traveling with Sawa, his son, gives adult France a ride into town Limbe, then on to Douala, Cameroon. A few years before he came to Africa idealistically seeking his roots, but became disillusioned – an interesting parallel to adult France’s story. Mungo stayed on to marry a Cameroonian woman; they have a son but are separated.
On NARRATIVE STRUCTURE, THEME & STYLE:
Borrowing literary concepts, Narrative Frame, or “frame-story,” presents “a preliminary narrative” or story, within which one or more characters tell stories (Abrams 195) - e.g. a single story or a sequence of stories remembered from the character’s past--which can constitute “a complete and rounded narrative,” as well “as a means of characterizing the teller” (Abrams 195).
Summary by Philibert: The adult France Dalens has returned to Cameroon and is on her way to Mindif, “where she used to live with her parents when the country was under French rule” (207). A black man traveling with his son, whom France first sees on a beach, gives her ride into Limbé, “the closest town where she is to catch an autobus to Douala. The car scene triggers a film-long flashback, in which France recalls fragments of the Dalens’s life in troubled colonial times,” and reveals her mother “Aimée’s desire for the family’s servant, Protée . . .” (207; emphasis added).
The narrative frame and the long, extended flashback (hardly therefore a “flash”) define the film’s narrative structure, bridging “two distinct periods—postcolonial and colonial Cameroon—and two different life stages—France as a young woman and as a preteen,” “creating an atmosphere which evokes both an era gone and a daydream” and blurs time and space (Philibert 209-210).
In literary terms, France Dalens might be considered the film’s primary participant NARRATOR, or story teller. The camera’s “eye” is presumably directed by her “gaze,” visual representation of the past focused on and limited to scenes from her childhood that the adult France “remembers” as in a waking “daydream,” which seems to commingle what the child France herself had witnessed first-hand, overheard or been told about—or the adult France reads about in her father’s Notebook, which she carries with her. Adult + child France’s memories, attitudes and reflections shape the POINT OF VIEW of the film. In cinematic terms, “the camera takes on the . . . ‘participant observer’ role” in the film narrative (Morgan 146).
As Janice Morgan observes, Chocolat is an autobiographical film that
"deals in a very personal way with the French colonial experience in Africa, addressing not only the overt, social aspects of the colonial experience but also--in conjunction with those--exploring its unacknowledged, psychological dimensions. This story of a French family living in Cameroon during the 1950s is recounted largely from a European perspective--but from one, interestingly, 'on the edge' of that perspective, since the events are narrated from the point of view of a child growing up between two different races, two different worlds" (Morgan 145; emphasis added).
“The story is told partly through the eyes of the young girl, and the film opens in the present, showing her as an adult in 1988, going back to visit her childhood home. But what is most important about the story are the things the young girl could not have known, or could have understood only imperfectly. And the central fact is that Protee is the best man, the most capable man, in the district, and that her mother and Protee feel a strong sexual attraction to each other” (Ebert; emphasis added).
Morgan maintains that Chocolat has “dual protagonists, representing both the ‘inside’ and the ‘outside’ of events”-- France and Protee--and the camera “eye” represents their dual perspectives on events (146). Child France and adult Protee form a special bond, as both insiders and outsiders, with the ability to “cross the color line”: child France is “not yet a full player in the colonial drama but a silent witness to it, from the edges of a deeply divided social order”; adult Protee is another silent witness who, as “the trusted employee,” can move “back and forth from the white governor’s house to the black workers’ quarters” (Morgan 146). If, in the narrative past, the young girl imperfectly understands all she witnesses, the camera “eye” also makes viewers aware of the silent observing presence of Protee at key events, and we are invited to imagine his perspective as adult colonized African “other.”
What is remembered, the scenes that are presented, are selective and selected – perhaps unconsciously by the character France, but certainly consciously by the filmmaker Claire Denis - to develop dramatic plot and themes. Frame story and embedded past story represent particularly meaningful life stages, events and messages, focusing on individual and collective relationships: e.g. between Protee and child France, drawn together as outsiders “excluded respectively from the white European world and the adult world” (Philibert 211), and between colonizers (e.g. Marc and Aimee Dalens) and colonized (e.g. Protee).
KEY PLOT EVENTS: Three key events stir controversy and advance the plot of the past story to its climax: “the visit of Jonathan Boothby; the emergency plane landing which leaves five Europeans and an African maid stranded on the Dalens’s estate . . .; and the intrusion of Luc Segalen . . .” (Philibert 213; emphasis added).
PARALLELS: Denis creates many suggestive parallels within and between the narrative frame story and the past story, their characters and themes in Chocolat. Look for parallels. For example, interesting parallels between “narrative frame” travelers adult France and “Mungo” Park – both exiles and migrants - are suggested: e.g. both had come to Africa seeking to reconnect to their “roots,” (day)dreams from which they must awake to unpleasant present realities: e.g. Mungo is robbed of his delusions of brotherhood by an early encounter with a Cameroonian “brother”; and Mungo can read neither past nor future in France’s scarred palm - emblem of a tenuous bridge burned long ago by Protee and not to be rebuilt now. Parallels are also suggested in identities and relationships among France, her mother, Mungo and Protee: e.g. Mungo refuses France’s offer of a drink and perhaps more –as Protee once refused her mother’s Aimee’s offer of more, at a climactic moment in the past story.
More on Structure, Theme & Cinematic Style: Chocolat emphasizes “a process of reflecting, re-assembling and remembering the colonial . . . past” (Villella). “Chocolat explores the subtle and discreet workings of power, desire, betrayal and dependency in colonial inter-relationships. The film refuses to present a reality in which characters are polarized as either good or bad, oppressor or victim; instead it dramatizes colonial relationships as complex, ambiguous and intricate” (Villella). The film’s characterizations and thematic messages are delivered in unconventional ways: “tableaux-like composition . . . dominates its style and the silent, observant and calculated regard of the camera”; “a lyrical rhythm, where the characters are present in their bodily movement, gesture, expression” and “minimal exchanges between characters and their unspoken feelings” (Villella). “Where nothing is spoken out loud between characters, their individual movements, gestures and expressions become significant moments of revelation”; indeed, according to Villella, “[t]he film’s most significant and telling moments are conveyed exclusively through bodily expression and gesture.”
Claire Denis “teaches you to think through your eyes” (Hinson).
“Denis employs the power of the visual to convey a plethora of information in an instant and to create a strong emotional impact. Silent observation becomes a powerful and highly articulate space. The vast silence of West Africa dominates the narrative. Stylistically this is conveyed through long shots laboriously panning the sparse West African landscape. These shots are marked by the absence of a musical soundtrack traditionally employed to apologise for the absence of naturally occurring diegetic sounds or dialogue. South African musician, Abdullah Ibrahim, composes a selectively used musical soundtrack. The extended shots of a silent landscape run parallel to the silence shared by Protee and France, both culturally disempowered subjects – France as a child; Protee as an African servant. Silence is a powerful tool as it allies France and Protee in a mutual position of astute observation” (Sandars).
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NARRATIVE PAST CHARACTERS & COMMENTARY
Narrative Past – Pre-independence French Cameroon
France Dalens, the child (Cécile Ducasse): Daughter (8 years old?) of Aimée Dalens and Marc Dalens, who was a French colonial administrator in the Mindif district of northern French Cameroon. France has a close but complicated relationship with Protée, the Dalens’ Black “houseboy.” It is primarily from child France’s perspective that the main story set in the past is presented.
Protée (Isaach De Bankolé): A native Cameroonian man of great nobility, intelligence and beauty—the film’s “hero” --is the Dalens family's "houseboy." Luc guesses (probably correctly) that Protee is a product of colonial education in a white Christian mission school. Work separates him from his fiancee and his family, whom he supports and corresponds with via the local schoolteacher. He has a special relationship with the child France, whom he teaches native customs, language and wisdom. But he is well aware of colonial racist boundaries, resists a dangerous attraction to white Aimee Dalens, and angrily resents the boundary-crossing troublemaker Luc Segalen.
According to Philibert, Protee’s representation is “contradictory”: he “is depicted as the handsome and hypervirile sexual male, foregrounded against radiant images of the African landscape”; but he is also “stoic, “appears responsible, intelligent, and in charge,” contesting “the traditional image that the Westerners have forged of Africans—as incompetent, amiable, lovable, childlike, immature, talkative, and smiling people who are not to be trusted with much responsibility” (212).
“Although Protee is seemingly rendered without voice, except in limited interactions with the young France, his is the most powerfully articulated character in the film. His haunting power and protests remain long after the close of the narrative. The fragility of a carefully maintained facade that governs the colonial code of conduct is marked on the figure of Protee in terms of his compromised emotions and reactions. Protee's dignified manner, humility and disciplined negation of Aimee's sexual approaches expresses the underlying power structures of this code and, in turn, its fragility” (Sandars).
Aimée Dalens (Giulia Boschi): Mother of France, wife of Marc, and struggling with her dangerous attraction to Protée.
Marc Dalens (François Cluzet): Father of France, husband of Aimée, and a sympathetic and conflicted French colonial administrator in the Mindif district of northern French Cameroon. His notebook of writings and drawings shows his deep love and respect for Cameroon’s land and people.
Enoch (Cora’s not sure of actor’s name?): Dalens family’s cook who cooks English dishes and speaks some English, but no French.
Nasen and Martha (Cora’s not sure of actors' names?): Norwegian missionaries living in the Mindif district and friends of the Dalens.
Jonathan Boothby (Kenneth Cranham): British white colonial (presumably with some official standing in British colonial Africa) and friend of the Dalens; he causes a comic stir in the Dalens’ household when he visits during Marc’s absence.
Capt. Védrine (Didier Falmand): Pilot of airplane forced by mechanical problems to land at Mindif, a big event for all concerned; he and his passengers are forced to stay for some time with the Dalens family while airplane is repaired and airstrip is prepared.
Courbassol (Jean-Quentin Châtelain): Navigator (?) of Capt. Védrine’s stranded airplane.
Joseph Delpich (Jacques Denis): A passenger in Capt. Védrine’s airplane stranded in Mindif, Delpich is an offensive white racist colonial coffee planter, traveling with Therese, a Black African servant who is also his mistress.
Djatao (Cora’s not sure of actor’s name?): Muslim chief and dignitary of the Mindif district, and respected old friend of Marc and Aimée Dalens. When he arrives in a modern landrover to present a goat to help the Dalens feed the stranded airplane passengers, Djatao is insulted by Delpich’s crass racist treatment.
André Machinard (Laurent Arnal): Young white man newly appointed to M'Banga, a French colonial post in tropical Cameroon; he and his young bride Mireille Machinard are also passengers in Capt. Védrine’s ill-fated airplane stranded in Mindif and staying with the Dalens family for some time.
Mireille Machinard (Emmanuelle Chaulet): André Machinard’s newly-wedded wife who becomes ill and has a seizure during her stay with the Dalens family.
Luc Segalen (Jean-Claude Adelin): Young white Frenchman and ex-seminary student who arrives with an African work crew to prepare an airstrip at Mindif; Luc is a troubling character who crosses and challenges racist boundary lines, and exposes the hypocrisies embedded in French colonial Africa. Philibert interprets Luc as an ambivalent figure: vacillating between endorsing the Western colonizing mission as a former Christian seminary student, and subverting the colonial order as a “hippie who sets out to walk across Africa” and “stands against injustice and the unfair treatment of the Africans” (214). Roth characterizes Luc as one “who destroys the color line (or does he just illuminate it?) by crossing back and forth over it. He does not know his place, or rather he refuses it” (1118). Morgan calls Luc Segalen, “ex-seminarian turned wanderer and unofficial provocateur,” “the most obvious boundary-crosser” who “plays the pivotal role” in crack[ing] open and expos[ing] the tensions underlying colonial apartheid’s fragile balance” in Chocolat (149).
Randall and Monique (Cora’s not sure of actors' names?): A white French couple, friends of the Dalens, who arrive with a work crew to clear a temporary runway for the stranded airplane. Luc has been tutoring their son Paul and apparently having an affair with Monique.
Prosper (Jean Bediebe): Black medical doctor of Mindif, at a school house meeting of Cameroonian nationalists plotting independence when Marc Dalens calls for him to attend ailing Mireille Machinard; when her racist husband refuses to allow Prosper to treat her, Marc is astonished and Luc makes a memorably sarcastic scene mocking white colonial racism.
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FILM NOTES & Critical Commentary
Chapter titles & divisions follow “Scene Selections” used in 2001 DVD;
with embedded links to detailed numbered scene summaries by Prof. Yahnke.
Ch. I. “Logo France” (DVD Scene Selections)
Narrative Frame. Setting: narrative present, post-independence Cameroon
Settings: Beach, enroute to and
and enroute to
Yahnke's Detailed Scene Notes #1 - 4:
Ch. 2. “…as a Child” (DVD Scene Selections)
Transition to Narrative Past: Setting: pre-independence Cameroon
home in Mindif & other parts of far-flung Mindif district
“Representative of diverse cultural spaces, food is an important motif
in Chocolat,” according to Sandars. In this scene (ch. 2: scene
#5), France “eagerly devours” the snack of live ants that Protee has
prepared for her, suggesting the close camaraderie between Protee and
France, and the “combination of French colonial and African
influences” (Sandars) that have shaped the white child.
Ch. 3. “Work Calls Protée” (DVD Scene Selections)
Settings: School &
Dalens' home in Mindif
Yahnke's Detailed Scene Notes #10-11:
In ch. 3: scene #11, France & Protee’s “sense of camaraderie is soured
when Protee eats a live insect at the dining table and France,
embodying a colonial voice, mocks him as a disgusting native” (Sandars).
Ch. 4. “Hyenas in the Night” (DVD Scene Selections)
home in Mindif; far off village in Mindif district
Yahnke's Detailed Scene Notes #11 - 14:
“Through the little girl’s eyes, the audience sees the complex lines of power dynamics in the colonial household. The idealistic father departs for an expedition into the back country, leaving Protee to take care of his wife and daughter. The viewer becomes aware of the extraordinary boredom in the life of Madame le Commandant. She is the queen of her home, but her home is her prison. Little France has her donkey and the open country but no other child to play with. Each has Protee, the beautiful black man who can ensure the mother that the house is not only safe but liveable and who can be a friend and co-conspirator for the daughter. Above all, Protee follows orders: he is scrupulously in his place, a black in the white’s Africa” (Roth 1118).
Ch. 4, Scene #13: “Sandwiched between Dalens’ encounters with indigenous cultures in the field is a highly enigmatic scene back at the house, where Protee—rifle in one hand, the other steadying France, perched high on his shoulders—patrols the property . . . for dangerous animals. First singing a low, rhythmic melody in tune with his stride, Protee suddenly interrupts the chant with a loud torrent of untranslated speech that most viewers cannot understand. His voice, raised in anger, seems to be a protest—but against what or whom, exactly?” (Morgan 149). Suddenly, Protee “the silent servant we think we know,” turns into Protee the “speaking subject we do not know” (Morgan 149; emphasis added).
Ch. 5. “The Spirit of Cooking” (DVD Scene Selections)
Setting: Dalens' home: Cook house
This comic food scene highlights the “differing colonial powers that have marked Africa . . . . Aimee fights with the African cook [Enoch] to have French fare prepared instead of his usual stodgy English meals. Immediately after this fight, an old English colonist [Jonathan Boothby] calls in and Aimee is found begging the cook to again prepare his traditional English meals” (Sandars).
Ch. 6. “The Ugly Englishman” (DVD Scene Selections)
Settings: Road to and at Dalens'
home; far off cattle drive in Mindif district
Yahnke's Detailed Scene Notes #16 - 23:
PLOT & THEME: “Jonathan [Boothby]’s visit occasions a surge of activity among the servants in and around the house, thus providing the spectator with insights into the Cameroonese social roles in a colonial epoch, and into the attending racial division between masters and servants” (Philibert 213-214).
KEY PLOT EVENT, CROSS-PERSPECTIVES: Morgan points out that the evening with Jonathan Boothby and Aimee Dalens, “elaborately costumed and choreographed,” is represented as an extravagant spectacle, “a kind of exotic ‘cinema within the cinema’” (146). Viewers watch this event as “spectacle” from the perspective of child France, “crouching outside in her pajamas” with a woman servant; but “at the same time we are compelled to acknowledge the cool, silent gaze of the black man [Protee] on the ‘other’ side of the screen, looking back at us, so to speak” (Morgan 146). While viewers do not know what Protee is thinking, his presence and occasional close up (e.g. in Scene #19, when Aimee observes that the former German owner was killed by one of his “boys”) strike “an unmistakable note of racial tension” for adult film viewers, if not for the child France (Morgan 147). The way has been prepared by the palpable erotic and racial tension of Scene #18, in Aimee’s bedroom (has child France witnessed this scene?), when Madam invites Protee into her bedroom, asks Protee to help fasten her “complicated (and revealing)” evening gown, and then they stand “suddenly motionless, silently staring ahead as if looking at themselves together in a mirror” (Morgan 147). For Janice Morgan, these “succession of events successfully draws together several themes: the artificiality of the costume drama between Aimee and Boothby and, behind that glittering surface, the very real drama between Aimee and Protee—in particular, the white woman’s unacknowledged dependency on the black servant’s strength, protection, and silence to ‘stage the dance’ of the colonial drama” (147).
PARALLEL/CONTRAST: Ch. 6, Scene #22 in the generator hut contrasts dramatically with later Ch. 14, Scene #52 in the generator hut, marking the radical change in Protee and France’s relationship.
Ch. 7. “Madame’s Bad Mood" (DVD Scene Selections)
Settings: Dalens' home
PARALLEL/CONTRAST: Contrast Ch. 7, Scene #24, with
Ch. 4, Scene #11 [cont’d] and Ch. 6, Scene #18, all set in
the private domain of Aimee’s bedroom, highlighting the “interplay of
distance and intimacy” between Aimee and Protee (Morgan 148). Madame
Aimee “is haunted by the black body of the household’s manservant who
is under her authority to direct” (148): Aimee can order Protee out of
her bedroom, or demand that Protee enter her bedroom to protect her
and France from hyenas, and to fasten her evening gown. The “uneven
‘familiarity’ between Aimee and Protee is also represented
linguistically by tone of voice and forms of address: “Aimee uses the
familiar tu with her servant while [Protee] must use the formal
vous and Madame with his employer” (Morgan 148) – which
non-French speakers would miss. If we want to understand mostly silent
Protee’s feelings and responses, we must attend to his body language
Ch. 8. “Marc Is Back” (DVD Scene Selections)
Settings: Road to and at Dalens' home
Yahnke's Detailed Scene Notes #26 - 29:
Ch. 9. “Fallen from the Sky” (DVD Scene Selections)
colonial military compound; Dalens' home
Yahnke's Detailed Scene Notes #30 - 32:
PLOT & THEME: “The presence of the Europeans generates additional racist comments that attest to a society structured upon the exploitation of racial and gender differences. Delpich . . ., the coffee planter who was also aboard the plane, submits his black mistress, Therese, to the double racial and sexual colonial exploitation of the Other. Not only does she perform physical tasks reserved for males in a Western society, such as helping Delpich carry a heavy truck . . ., but she is also relegated to the master’s bedroom: she sits on the floor, waiting to be fed the leftovers from the dinner from which she has been excluded” (Philibert 214).
KEY PLOT EVENT: “The downed plan that brings a group of unexpected French visitors to the house for a lengthy stay provides Denis the occasion to show a rich palette of colonialist attitudes toward Africa, as well as to crack open and expose the tensions underlying colonial apartheid’s fragile balance” (Morgan 149). The range extends from Delpich, the racist coffee grower, who crosses the color line “in private with his black housekeeper” Therese; to Luc Segalen, who will “openly” cross color boundaries, as “it suits him to do so, sleeping on the porch rather than indoors, bathing and eventually eating with in the African quarters rather than with the other European guests” (Morgan 149).
Ch. 10. “Some Work, Some Eat” (DVD Scene Selections)
Settings: Dalens' home; nearby site of
the airplane landing
Yahnke's Detailed Scene Notes #33 - 36:
Ch. 11. “The Natural Color” (DVD Scene Selections)
Settings: Dalens' home
Yahnke's Detailed Scene Notes #37 - 39:
Philibert translates, from French into English, the passage
from Marc Dalens’ Notebook, read aloud by Luc, as follows:
Ch. 12. “A Real Doctor” (DVD Scene Selections)
Settings: Dalens' home, Mindif
Schoolhouse, Mindif colonial military compound
Yahnke's Detailed Scene Notes #40 - 45:
Closing the dramatic
episode of Ch. 12, Scene #42 is a moment of apparent
camaraderie between Marc and Luc, suggesting Marc interprets Luc’s
staged scene as intended more to mock the ignorant colonial attitude
of racist Marchinard than to humiliate the African doctor Prosper.
But Prosper’s perspective on Luc’s and Marc’s actions is likely to be
very different, and the facts remain that Marc did little to intercede
by defending Prosper’s competence and did not offer Prosper a ride
back. The look on Prosper’s face in the earlier closeup suggests that
he and his fellow schoolhouse conspirators do indeed desire “One day”
to kick all these Europeans out of Cameroon.
Ch. 13. “The Company He Keeps” (DVD Scene Selections)
Settings: Dalens' home
Yahnke's Detailed Scene Notes #46 - 49:
[Ch. 13, scene #46:] “. . . Luc unveils the tabooed sexual interaction between Africans and Europeans by making public the white woman’s private realm—[Aimee’s] desire for the ‘houseboy’ [Protee]. One afternoon [ch. 13: scene #46], as the ex-seminarian sits and eats among the servants, Aimee questions the improper place he occupies. In an open provocation to both Aimee and Protee, Luc discloses the white woman’s secret desire for the black servant,” setting the stage for the two decisive actions that follow that evening: “Luc and Protee engage in a . . . [physical] fight and Aimee makes a sexual invitation to Protee” (Philibert 215).
[Ch. 13: scenes #47 & #48:] In both these dramatic encounters, one may agree with Philibert that Protee emerges “victorious”(215): he throws Luc and his baggage off the porch and defeated Luc disappears into the night; and Protee rejects Aimee’s sexual invitation by looking her straight in the eye, pulling her forcibly to her feet, and then leaving the room. In silent and powerful dignity, the colonized thus ejects and rejects the colonizers.
“Chocolat is a film of infinite delicacy. It is not one of those steamy melodramatic interracial romances where love conquers all. It is a movie about the rules and regulations of a racist society and how two intelligent adults, one black, one white, use their mutual sexual attraction as a battleground on which, very subtly, to taunt each other. The woman [Aimee] of course has the power; all of French colonial society stands behind her. But the man [Protee] has the moral authority, as he demonstrates in the movie’s most important scene, which is wordless, brief, and final” (Ebert).
PLOT CLIMAX – “The threatened boundary relations in the household come to climax in three . . . contested spaces with the three persons who most clearly challenge Protee’s sense of who and what he can be to these people in this place,” in three sequential events that follow each other “in a causal succession” (Morgan 150). In Ch. 13, Scene #47, Protee defends both household and his personal boundaries when he throws first Luc’s sleeping mat, then Luc himself off the porch and out into the night (Morgan 150). In Ch. 13, Scene #48, as Protee performs “his ritual closing of the house screens against the dangers of the night,” Protee responds to Aimee’s offer of intimacy by “sweeping Aimee onto her feet,” a “powerful” counter-gesture needed “to keep things in their place, to secure the limits of who they are” (Morgan 150). Yet for his refusal to cross forbidden colonial boundaries, Protee will be punished – banished from the house. In Ch. 14, Scene #52, the final climactic scene in the generator hut that follows, Protee will “deliberately brea[k] the tie of friendship and trust between” him and the child France, which Morgan characterizes as “a necessary exchange” to “rupture a bond that has no future” (150).
13, Scene #49:
Denis “works under the sign of memory, and with a sensibility and
politics that long for friendship across the color line. In a
wonderful scene [ch. 13: scene #49], France’s father explains to the
girl what the horizon is: a line that is seen but that is not there.
A that is not real but that cannot be crossed. The line of the
horizon is the line of race. It can be approached, but the goal
recedes as one approaches it. Not real but ever present. This film
does not attempt to account for the color line or its violators. But
we are always aware of its presence as a horizon that envelops all”
Ch. 14. “Protée Must Leave” (DVD Scene Selections)
Settings: Dalens' home
Ch. 14, Scene # 52: This dramatic scene between Protee and France parallels the preceding climatic scene [Ch. 13, Scene #48] between Protee and Aimee, as Philibert points out (219): he cannot and will not be lover nor surrogate father; now he must finally draw the line, rejecting any further attempts by mother or daughter to transgress racial boundaries—at great cost, with burning pain and indelible scars, for all. “The black African can never forget that his relations with whites are played out in a political field where the power of authority lies heavily on the other side” (Morgan 149).
According to Sandars, this incident 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 the complicated past.”
Ch. 15. “Departure Then and Now” (DVD Scene Selections)
Settings: Temporary runway near Dalens'
[Narrative Frame: Return to Narrative Present, post-independence Cameroon]
Settings: Enroute to & in Douala;
“On the road, searching for her past and roots, France ultimately
finds herself at the point of departure: off to Mindiff, Northern
Cameroon, location of her parents’ estate, or perhaps back to France”
An open question remains: Does France travel on to Mindif, or does she return to France?
Michael Roth states that Chocolat is interesting to the historian because “it makes problematic any notion of an easy, direct connection to the past. The narrative frame of the film . . . calls into question whether it is possible to go beyond personal memory to make an authentic connection with the past. France is not a tourist; she grew up in Africa. The black man [“Mungo” Park] who gives her a ride is an American expatriate who ‘returned’ to Africa in order to escape the feeling of being an outsider in a racist country [the U.S.A.]. But in African no one thought of him as a brother, and at the end of the film he is a picture of alienation as the American in Africa. His return does not reconnect him to his roots; there are no historical roots for him in Cameroon. And, although France’s personal roots are there, there is no possibility of return for her, either. She wants to find the house of her youth, but she is warned: ‘Leave quickly before somebody eats you up.’ At the airport, Africans are shown carefully loading ‘native’ art objects onto a departing plane. France leaves” (1119).
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Works Cited & More Resources
Abrams, M. H. A Glossary of Literary Terms. 6th ed. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1993.
Ancien, Aime. “Claire Denis: An Interview.” Trans. Inge Pruks. Senses of Cinema 17(Nov.-Dec. 2001). 24 August 2004 <http://www.sensesofcinema.com/contents/02/23/denis_interview.html>.
Chocolat. Dir. Claire Denis. Prod. Alain Belmondo and Gerard Crosnier. Wr. Claire Denis and Jean-Pol Fargeau. Perf. Giulia Boschi, Isaach de Bankole, François Cluzet, Cecile Ducasse, Mireille Perrier. Cinemanuel, MK2 Productions, Cerito Films, La S.E.P.T., Caroline Productions, Le F.O.D.I.C. Cameroun, Wim Wenders Produktion Berlin, TFI Films Production, Orion Films; 1988. [DVD:] World Films, MGM Home Entertainment, 2001.
“Claire Denis.” Hollywood.com Celebrity Biography. 1999-2003. 14 May 2003 <http://www.hollywood.com/celebs/bio/celeb/1672007>.
Ebert, Roger. Rev. of Chocolat. Chicago Suntimes 12 May 1989. Digital Chicago, 2004. 24 August 2004 <http://www.suntimes.com/ebert/ebert_reviews/1989/05/353476.html>.
Hinson, Hal. Rev. of Chocolat. Washington Post 14 April 1989. WashingtonPost.com 1999. 24 August 2004 <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/longterm/movies/videos/chocolatpg13hinson_a0a8f8.htm>.
Howe, Desson. Rev. of Chocolat. Washington Post 14 April 1989. WashingtonPost.com 1999. 24 August 2004 <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/longterm/movies/videos/chocolatpg13howe_a0b1f8.htm>.
Kinzer, Amber [Anderson].
Project, Writing 316/English 339, Eastern Oregon Univ. at Central
Oregon Community College, Spring 2003.
“The Lifetime Series: Claire Denis.” American Museum of the Moving Image. 2000. 24 Aug. 2004 <http://www.ammi.org/calendar/SeriesArchives/DenisSeries.htm>.
Morgan, Janice. "The Spatial Politics of Racial and Cultural Identity in Claire Denis' Chocolat." Quarterly Review of Film & Video 20 (2003): 145-153.
Murray, Alison. “Teaching Colonial History through Film.” French Colonial Studies 25.1 (Winter 2002): 41-52.
Murray, Alison. “Women, Nostalgia, Memory: Chocolat, Outremer, and Indochine.” Research in African Literatures 33.2 (Summer 2002): 235-244.
Philibert, Celine. “From Betrayal to Inclusion: The Work of the White Woman’s Gaze in Claire Denis’s Chocolat.” White Women in Racialized Spaces. Ed. Samina Najmi and Rajini Srikanth. Albany: State Univ. of New York Press, 2002. 207-226.
Romney, Jonathan. “Claire Denis Interviewed by Jonathan Romney.” Film Interviews. [Manchester, UK] Guardian Unlimited, 2004. 24 August 2004 <http://film.guardian.co.uk/interview/interviewpages/0,6737,338784,00.html>.
Roth, Michael S. Rev. of Chocolat. “Film Reviews: Africa.” American Historical Review 95.4 (Oct. 1990): 1118-1119.
Sandars, Diana. Rev. of Chocolat. Senses of Cinema, October 2001. 24 August 2004 <http://www.sensesofcinema.com/contents/cteq/01/17/chocolat.html>.
Stiller, Nikki. Rev of Chocolat. Film Quarterly 44.2 (Winter 1990-1991): 52-56.
Villella, Fiona A. “Postcolonial Cinema: Chocolat.” Senses of Cinema. 1999-2003. 21 Aug. 2004 <http://www.sensesofcinema.com/contents/00/1/chocolat.html >.
Yahnke, Robert E. (Professor of film studies, General College, Univ. of Minnesota-Minneapolis, MN). “Film Summary: Chocolat 1989; Dir. Claire Denis.” 2001. 21 Aug. 2004 <http://www.tc.umn.edu/~yahnk001/filmteach/choco-v.htm>.
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Chocolat (1988; Dir. Claire Denis) Film Guide & Resources
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