5.2 CHOCOLAT (1988; Dir. Claire Denis): Film Guide & Resources
HUM 211 Course Pack
COCC Home > Cora Agatucci Home > Classes > HUM 211 Home > HUM 211 Course Pack > Chocolat
Film Guide & Resources

URL of this webpage: http://web.cocc.edu/cagatucci/classes/hum211/CoursePack/Chocolat.htm
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

MLA-Style Citation:

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
COCC Campus Library Location: I.M.S. Audiovisual; Call No. PN1995.9.F67 C4647 1990
Chocolat [videorecording] / Alain Belmondo et Gerard Crosnier ; Marin Karmitz, MK2 ; un film de Clair Denis.
[New York] : Orion Home Video, [1990], c1988.
In French with English subtitles. Run time: 106 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Claire Denis's award-winning autobiographical film traces a young white woman’s 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).

Internet Movie Database: Chocolat (1988): http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0094868/
External Reviews: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0094868/externalreviews
Claire Denis’s Filmography: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0219136/

Director Claire Denis [born 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; note 5).
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).

top of this page


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.


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).

top of this page


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.

top of this page

CHOCOLAT 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 in Limbé, and enroute to Douala.
Characters: Adult France Dalens, "Mungo" Park and Sawa, his son.

Prof. Yahnke's Detailed Scene Notes #1 - 4:

Ch. 2.  “…as a Child” (DVD Scene Selections)

Transition to Narrative Past: Setting: pre-independence Cameroon

Settings: Dalens' home in Mindif & other parts of far-flung Mindif district
Characters (Exposition): Child France Dalens,
Protée, Marc Dalens, Aimée Dalens
Prof. Yahnke's Detailed Scene Notes #5 - 9:

“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.
THEME: On the road, various travel encounters with Africans by Marc Dalens, “husband/father/ colonial administrator,” indicate “limits of comprehensibility” between colonizer and colonized (Morgan 148). In Ch. 2, Scene #9, Marc “regales his African assistant Dieudonne with a traditional French folksong, only to discover that the African does not understand one of the key expressions in it” (Morgan 148). Later, in Ch. 4, Scene #12, Marc’s “translator does not translate everything” that the African elder says (Morgan 148), nor does the elder think much of European methods of dealing with indigenous problems, like protecting their herds from lions.

Ch. 3.  “Work Calls Protée” (DVD Scene Selections) 

Settings: School & Dalens' home in Mindif
Characters: France, Protée, Schoolteacher/scribe

Prof. 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).
In both the above scenes [ch. 3: scenes #10 & #11], child France and Protee enact the master-servant relationship of colonizer and colonized – however playfully.  “Although Protee and the young France share a friendship of interdependency and understanding, it is still subject to the defining relations of domination and subordination”: the colonial “paradigm of master and slave” is inescapable (Villella).

Ch. 4.  “Hyenas in the Night” (DVD Scene Selections)

Settings: Dalens' home in Mindif; far off village in Mindif district
Characters: France, Aimée, Protée; Marc & African chief; Norwegian missionaries Nasen & Martha

Prof. 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
Aimée, Enoch, Protée
Prof. Yahnke's Detailed Scene Notes #15:

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
Jonathan Boothby, his servant & porters; France, Aimée, Enoch, Protée, & servants; Marc & cattle drivers

Prof. 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
France, Aimée, Protée

Prof. Yahnke's Detailed Scene Notes #24 - 25:

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 and actions. 
Ch. 7, Scene #25:  In Morgan’s interpretation, Protee in the outdoor shower “(the narrow space of his freedom)” has been “enjoying a rare moment of pleasure and privacy apart from his domestic role”; but the servants’ shower is outdoors, in full view of Aimee and France when they return to the house, and Protee’s “solitude and pleasure” and illusory sense of privacy is violated: “a look of intense pain suddenly convulses his face before he slams his arm into the concrete wall behind him” (Morgan 150).
THEME: Boundaries are difficult maintain in the colonial situation, “where such barriers are constantly in danger of being eroded by the everyday intimacies of two races living side by side” (Morgan 148).
PARALLEL: Compare Ch. 7, Scene #25 to later Ch. 12, Scene #45, when Protee confronts Luc using the servants’ outdoor shower.

Ch. 8.  “Marc Is Back” (DVD Scene Selections)

Settings: Road to and at Dalens' home
Marc, Protée, Aimée, France, servants

Prof. Yahnke's Detailed Scene Notes #26 - 29:

Parallel: In ch. 8, scene #28, Protee and France play a word game, naming parts of the face and body, as did Mungo and his son Sawa in the car earlier (ch. 1) in the Narrative Present frame story.

Ch. 9.  “Fallen from the Sky” (DVD Scene Selections)

Settings: Mindif colonial military compound; Dalens' home
Marc, numerous black children, Capt. Védrine, navigator Courbassol & passengers Joseph Delpich & his servant Therese, André & Mireille Machinard from the "fallen" airplane; Djatao, Aimée, Protée, France

Prof. 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
Marc, some of his men, Aimée, France; Randal, Monique, & Randal's work crew, including Luc Segalen; Protée, Enoch, Depich & Therese, Capt. Védrine, Courbassol, André & Mireille Machinard

Prof. Yahnke's Detailed Scene Notes #33 - 36:

Ch. 11.  “The Natural Color” (DVD Scene Selections)

Settings: Dalens' home
Marc, Luc Segalen, Aimée, France, Protée, Courbassol, Enoch, other servants

Prof. 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:
“Among the African bronze-colored faces, the white skin color evokes something akin to death.  Even I, who, after seeing only colored people for months and months, noticed the first Europeans in 1891 near Benoue, found white skin unnatural next to the delicious fullness of dark skin.  Then, who can blame the natives for believing the white man to be an unnatural, supernatural, and devilish creature?”
(224; note 12).

Ch. 12.  “A Real Doctor” (DVD Scene Selections)

Settings: Dalens' home, Mindif Schoolhouse, Mindif colonial military compound
Enoch, Protée, other servants, Marc, Prosper, André Machinard, Luc Segalen, Aimée, France, Capt. Védrine, Courbassol, Mireille Machinard

Prof. 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.
“Border crossings in this [colonial] society are controlled by the whites: Luc’s use of the outdoor shower [in Ch. 12, Scene #43], then is a unilateral assertion of power, for it is clear that while Luc as a white man is able to cross into the servants’ quarters outside, neither Protee nor his fellow blacks will be similarly free to use the European facilities . . . . Protee does not accept, therefore, Luc’s presumed openness to African ways, for it is not practiced out of generosity or any sense of equality between the races; rather, Luc’s behavior is an unacceptable intrusion of white authority into an already-reduced black living space” (Morgan 149-150).
PARALLEL: Ch. 12, Scene #45, Protee confronts Luc in the outdoor shower with a polite but tense reminder, “This is the servants’ shower,” which Morgan compares to the intense pain that Protee displays in an earlier scene in the outdoor shower (150)—compare to Ch. 7, Scene #25.
Though Aimee is not interested in Luc’s implied propositions, “there is a complicated dynamic at work here: She is drawn to Protee, yet cannot have him because of the racist basis of her society.  And as is often the case, the master resents the servant, as if prejudice and segregation were the fault of the class that is discriminated against.  In a way so subtle that some viewers may miss it, the French woman [Aimee] behaves with the visiting male [Luc] in such a way as to take revenge on Protee, whom she taunts because she cannot embrace” (Ebert).

Ch. 13.  “The Company He Keeps” (DVD Scene Selections)

Settings: Dalens' home
Marc, France; Aimée, Protée, Luc Segalen, other servants

Prof. 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).

Ch. 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” (Roth 1118). 
THEME & SYMBOL: Morgan agrees with Homi Bhabha that the color bar dividing colonized and colonizer is internal, “exists within each of these two cultural positions as well as between them,” that “the psycho-social relationship between colonizer and colonized is . . . complex and multi-layered . . .” (cited in Morgan 145-146).  Director Claire Denis invents her own “metaphor of the horizon” to represent “the line of difference, visible but illusory, that depends entirely on the position and perspective of the observer” (Morgan 149). “. . . Protee, the black servant, becomes the point of reference” in all “key relationships that are tested in the narrative” over the psychological and political “color line”: “between a black man and a white man, between a black man and a white woman, between a black man and a white child” (Morgan 149).

Ch. 14.  “Protée Must Leave” (DVD Scene Selections)

Settings: Dalens' home
France, Aimée, Marc, new "houseboy," Protée
Prof. Yahnke's Detailed Scene Notes #50 - 52:

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.”

Villella suggests that “nothing between the characters is ever absolutely resolved.  There is rather an overwhelming sense of loss and melancholy gained from the film which explores the impossibility of love between two characters, Aimee and Protee and even France and Protee, stuck within the colonial paradigm of master and slave.”

Ch. 15.  “Departure Then and Now (DVD Scene Selections)

Settings: Temporary runway near Dalens' home
Capt. Védrine, Courbassol, Norwegian missionaries Nasen & Martha; plus a large crowd of spectators, including Marc, Aimée, France, and horseback riders
Prof. Yahnke's Detailed Scene Notes #53:

[Narrative Frame: Return to Narrative Present, post-independence Cameroon]

Settings: Enroute to & in Douala; Modern airport
Characters: Adult
France, "Mungo" Park, and his son Sawa; Airport workers
Prof. Yahnke's Detailed Scene Notes #54 - #56:

“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”
(Philibert 221).

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).

top of this page

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]. Student Term Project, Writing 316/English 339, Eastern Oregon Univ. at Central Oregon Community College, Spring 2003.
Term Project: Comparative Study on the Book Titled Nervous Conditions and the Film Chocolat.
Annotated Bibliography: http://web.cocc.edu/wr316ca/amberk/term_project/annotated_bib.htm

“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 ChocolatSenses of Cinema, October 2001.  24 August 2004 <http://www.sensesofcinema.com/contents/cteq/01/17/chocolat.html>.

Stiller, Nikki. Rev of ChocolatFilm 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>.

top of this page

COCC Home > Cora Agatucci Home > Classes > HUM 211 Home > HUM 211 Course Pack > Chocolat Film Guide & Resources
Of related interest: African Films

You are here:  Chocolat (1988; Dir. Claire Denis) Film Guide & Resources
URL of this webpage: http://web.cocc.edu/cagatucci/classes/hum211/CoursePack/Chocolat.htm
Last updated: 04 November 2007

Copyright © 1997 - 2007, Cora Agatucci, Professor of English
Humanities Department, Central Oregon Community College
Please address comments on web contents & links to:
If you experience technical problems with this web, please contact: